Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on Domestic and Foreign Policy Issues

March 25, 1983

Employment and Social Security Legislation

The President. I have an opening statement here -- and good morning. It's a short statement.

I'd like to thank the Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle for helping us address two issues of great significance to the American people.

For all our senior citizens who worried about receiving their social security benefits and for the present-day workers concerned about the solvency of that system, I think a dark cloud has been lifted. Shortly after 2 o'clock this morning, the Congress completed action on the bipartisan social security solvency program. And by working together in our best bipartisan tradition, we have passed reform legislation that brings us much closer to ensuring the integrity of the social security system.

As you know, I've pledged repeatedly that no American who depends on social security would ever be denied his or her check. But I warned those who were making this issue a political football that the system did have real problems and that only through hard work, not demagoguery, would we be able to solve them. Well, for the sake of our people, I'm gratified that great good sense did prevail over partisan concerns.

I was also pleased to sign last evening a bill that guarantees continued unemployment insurance benefits and that provides funds to expand employment opportunities available in Federal programs during the present Federal [fiscal] year.

Now, this bipartisan legislation approves supplemental appropriations totaling $4.6 billion for various construction, renovation, and repair activities. And it provides authority for humanitarian assistance through food donations and other related efforts. By accelerating various Government projects already budgeted for future years, this legislation avoids the costly error of creating a multibillion-dollar, make-work job program, the sort of expensive mistake the Federal Government made too often in the past. In fact, all of the employment-generating activities funded under this bill will add virtually nothing to the Federal deficit, if the higher spending in 1983 is offset by compensating reductions in future appropriations for these same activities.

Let there be no confusion on one essential point. Even as this bill becomes law, the signs are clear that economic recovery is already underway, a recovery that'll bring far more jobs to unemployed Americans than could ever be created by new Federal jobs programs. Make-work jobs are just temporary at best. And we know that from past experience. More government spending for such jobs will only crowd out private borrowing for private jobs, raise the deficit and reverse our dramatic progress in bringing down inflation and interest rates.

So, I'm asking all Members of the Congress to work with me to hold down spending and taxes in the same bipartisan spirit that's brought us such great progress on jobs and social security. Working together, avoiding a return to narrow partisanship, we can ensure a recovery that's strong and long lasting.

And now, because I believe in the sanctity of contracts, where is Sarah McClendon [McClendon News Service]?

Q. Yes, sir. Right here. [Laughter]

The President. Right there.

U.S. Commodities and Foreign Policy

Q. Thank you so much for recognizing me.

Sir, you're about to embark on a long and complicated scientific exploration for war and death. Why cannot we have just as concentrated a program on trying to solve the mess by seeking better human relations, U.S.A.-style, with the Soviet Union and other countries? Why don't we sell for cash some of the 190,000 tons of butter we're paying to store daily and daily adding to? The Soviets need butter desperately; the starving babies in Africa, who can drink the milk reprocessed from the butter. We have other surplus commodities. Why cannot we explore whether better living through sharing of food and consumer goods will make people turn from their warlords and bring about peace?

The President. Well, Sarah, I think that what you have been asking literally is being answered. First of all, we are going to continue not only in the area of disarmament but every other way we can to convince those who seem to be expansionists today that there is a better course if they're willing to come forth and join the family of nations that want to go forward together in peace and freedom.

With regard to the food, the only restraint on that -- we are adding to the commodities that we've held in storage under our own laws and regulations here -- we're adding to the number of those -- the amount of those that is going to be redistributed to the people of need, whether here or worldwide. But the one restraint that I mentioned is, we have to be sure that in doing that, we don't just add further problems to the agricultural community by, in that disposing, interfering with or wiping out their potential markets.

So, it's a line that has to be walked. And we've been very careful with that. We have internationally made some of these things and these dairy products available, but in each time we have had to work very carefully so as not to either deprive our own farmers or deprive other allies and friends of ours of their commercial markets.

Nuclear Defense Proposal

Q. Mr. President, why did you make that proposal now, in the light of the arms race that is going on with the Soviet Union, so to speak, and the negotiations over in Geneva, at a time when the budget is being beaten up in Congress because of the higher defense spending that you want? Why would you put that proposal out now?

The President. I put it out now, because what better time? I've been having this idea, and it's been kicking around in my mind for some time here recently. And constantly I have thought about the fact that the nuclear missile seems to be one of the only major weapon systems in history that has never produced or brought about a defense against itself. And I brought this up one day in a meeting which the Chiefs of Staff were present and others, and we talked about it and discussed it and then discussed it some more. And since we don't know how long it will take or if -- or ever, that we have to start -- the quicker we start, the better.

But it is inconceivable to me that we can go on thinking down the future, not only for ourselves and our lifetime but for other generations, that the great nations of the world will sit here, like people facing themselves across a table, each with a cocked gun, and no one knowing whether someone might tighten their finger on the trigger.

There is one way, and the way we're pursuing, which is to see if we can get mutual agreement to reduce these weapons and, hopefully, to eliminate them, as we're trying in INF. There is another way, and that is if we could, the same scientists who gave us this kind of destructive power, if they could turn their talent to the job of, perhaps, coming up with something that would render these weapons obsolete. And I don't know how long it's going to take, but we're going to start, because I'm going to be signing an executive directive very shortly, when I get out of here.

Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]?

Q. Mr. President, the Soviets don't see it your way at all in terms -- they say that you are, in fact, accelerating the arms race, that we are violating the ABM treaty, and that it's almost that you've thrown down the gauntlet.

The President. Well, maybe they're looking at us in a kind of a mirror image. They're having us think like they think.

First of all, it doesn't violate the ABM treaty. We've just extended that for 5 years. The ABM treaty has to do with deployment. There is nothing in it that prohibits research, which is what we're calling for. I'm quite sure that whatever time it would take and whatever President would be in the White House when, maybe 20 years down the road, somebody does come up with an answer, I think that that would then bring to the fore the problem of, all right, why not now dispose of all these weapons since we've proven that they can be rendered obsolete?

Q. But we have had the -- the mutual deterrent has kept the peace, the mutual destruction approach, for 40 years. And are you moving away from that, the fear of mutual destruction?

The President. Yes, but that's it -- it's, as I say, it's like those two fellows with the loaded guns, cocked and ready. Yes, we have. I think that -- but remember that, for a great part of that period, we proved, I think pretty definitely, that we are not expansionists, that we're not aggressive, because we had, to begin with, a monopoly. And then, for a number of those 30 years, we had such a superiority, as witness the Cuban missile crisis.

When they blinked I think it's safe to say it was because our superiority at that time was about eight to one. And, if you'll recall, the Russian involved in those, are very high up in the Politburo, involved in that particular incident said within the hearing of his counterparts on our side that they would never again be caught in that position. And they started their dramatic military buildup.

So, you can't say that we have sat here even and with the great amount of weapons that both sides have today for those 30 years. For a long time, and as I say again, we proved -- you have to ask yourself how many nations in the world could have had the monopoly that we had and not have taken advantage of it, and we didn't.

Remember I said -- what I said about the back of the room? I've got to go -- right there -- you.

Q. Mr. President, five more -- sir, did you mean -- --

Q. Me?

The President. You, yes.

Taxes

Q. Mr. President, with oil prices declining, would you support some sort of energy tax increases?

The President. Well, we have one right now -- the 5-percent tax -- but that's truly a users fee.

I don't believe that we should be looking at tax increases right now. With this recovery at the stage it is, I think we've proven our point that our system, in spite of all the maligning that took place before it was even underway and having a chance to operate, has proven its success. We are definitely into a recovery. And to pick this time now to raise taxes in any way is risking setting back this recovery.

Q. So, you're ruling out any kind of tax increase, even on energy?

The President. I'm opposed to a tax increase right now.

Q. As a followup to that, do you also oppose even the standby taxes that you previously agreed to? Do you want Congress to put in place this year a mechanism for standby taxes next year, or have you also backed off of that?

The President. Well, I'll tell you, I'm still considering on that. But I want you to recall also that that tax could not have been triggered unless recovery was established definitely and that the economic crisis was past, and also that the Congress had agreed to the spending reductions that we believe will keep that recovery going. And so far --

Now, the gentleman who tried before, and then I'll come down front here.

Environmental Protection Agency

Q. Mr. President, we learned today of five more top-level resignations from the Environmental Protection Agency. These are all people who've been caught up one way or another in the congressional allegations. Doesn't this really look bad? And how can you reassure the people that the agency is operating properly?

The President. I don't think it necessarily looks bad. I think what is happening there and with the new director coming in, there is -- some of these individuals that have been through this whole thing. And I know that some of them, just as Anne Burford did, and all of those who implied that some way this was engineered -- no. I never would have asked for her resignation.

Anne Burford, for one, and some of these others feel that there will be far more chance of success of the Agency continuing to function, that they can contribute by leaving. And I think that, as I thought of her, that it was a very generous thing and thought for her to have. And it's true, because I think with all of the allegations and all of the accusations, in spite of the fact that no proof of any wrongdoing has been presented in all of this fuss as yet, that this is what's back of -- some of those, I can't speak for all, but some of those have let us know for quite some time that they wanted out. They wanted to leave.

Arms Reduction

Q. Mr. President, are you going to offer a proposal for interim arms reduction in Europe next week? And are you going to continue to stick with Mr. Adelman, your nominee for Arms Control Director, even though he appears to have been talking about personnel matters in the memos that were released?

The President. Bill [Bill Plante, CBS News], I'll answer the last part first. You bet I'm sticking by Mr. Adelman. How someone can be hung out to dry for having received a letter from someone else -- he didn't write the letter; he received it.

Q. But he did write a memo, sir, which was released yesterday.

The President. All right. But isn't this natural, that someone who is in a position of assuming the directorship of an agency or department or commission or whatever it might be is going to make inquiries of people on the scene with regard to personnel and so forth?

And it was perfectly natural -- I've done it myself -- that, when the letter came, he passed it to an aide for one who is collecting all the information that he would, then, have to deal with when he was in the job.

And I think he is excellently qualified. And I think that the fuss that has been raised about him, again, smacks of people smaller than the person they're attacking -- attacking someone who's bigger than they are.

Ms. Thomas. Thank you. Are you -- --

Q. The first part of the question. Did you want to -- --

The President. What?

Q. Did you want to answer the first part?

The President. Oh, the first part of the question. I knew there was -- I talked too long on that other part.

And the first part is -- all I can say is: Tune in next week. I will be speaking to the subject of our disarmament proposals and so forth next week. But there's nothing to comment on today.

Q.Thank you.

The President. Helen said ``thank you.''

Q. You can overrule her if you want. You're the President. [Laughter] You're the boss. [Laughter]

The President. Helen, you never told me that. [Laughter]

Ms. Thomas. If elected, I will serve. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 11:10 a.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.