Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Elected Republican Women Officials

January 13, 1984

The President. Before I get into anything besides ``good afternoon'' and ``welcome,'' I think I ought to point out that today is the birthday -- someone, I believe I have it right, from St. Louis, Missouri -- Bonnie Sue Cooper. Where is she? Oh, there! Happy birthday! [Laughter and applause]

Ms. Cooper. Thank you.

The President. Well, it's a pleasure to have you all here and a real delight for me to see so many good friends and to have a chance to make, I hope, some new ones. And I'm glad the Vice President and Barbara Bush and Secretaries Elizabeth Dole, Don Regan, Terrel Bell, Margaret Heckler, were able to be with us. And I hope that you're all as happy as I am that we have with us two of the most important women in my life -- Nancy and Maureen.

And we also have with us some of the many extraordinarily capable women on the White House staff. I have seen, looking around the room, women here from the White House Personnel and Legislative offices. And I must mention Trudi Morrison, who runs a program close to my heart -- the Fifty States Project.

I also see we've been joined by a few of the men on our staff, and in this crowd they sort of stand out. [Laughter] I don't have time to recognize everyone, but special thanks to Jim Baker for inviting you all here.

Now, before I say anything else, let me give you Republican officeholders my heartfelt thanks for all the time and labor each of you have given to the cause that unites us. When all is said and done, it's not gloss and glitter but effort and determination from people like you who make it possible for us to put our beliefs into practice. And all of you are especially important because you demonstrate the Republican commitment to American women.

I was thinking on the way over about a story I like to tell. And if you've heard it before, pretend you haven't, because I'm going to tell it. [Laughter]

There was an accident; a man lying out there on the pavement. There was a women bending over him and trying to help him, and a crowd gathered around. And then a man elbowed his way through the crowd, shoved the woman aside, and said, ``I've studied first aid. Let me at him.'' And she meekly stepped back, and he went to work with the things that he'd learned. And then there came one point in which she tapped him on the shoulder and she said, ``When you come to that part about calling the doctor, I'm right here.'' [Laughter]

As women have taken on new roles in society, the Republican Party has given them, I think, firm support. First, it was the GOP that gave its backing to women suffrage. And then our party became the first to elect a woman to the United States Congress and the only party ever to elect women to the United States Senate who were not first just filling out unexpired terms.

Today the two women in the Senate, my friends, Nancy Kassebaum and Paula Hawkins, are Republicans. And we have nine outstanding Republican women in the House of Representatives. And I'd just like to ask Paula right now, ``Wouldn't you like to have more company?'' [Laughter] All right.

In our administration, we've appointed many women to positions of top responsibility -- women like our United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, our Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler, our Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole, and the many women on the White House staff who are with us here today.

One of my proudest days in office was when I appointed Sandra Day O'Connor as the first woman Justice on the United States Supreme Court. And, believe me, I've had many reasons to cheer that appointment.

But just as important, today there are thousands of able Republican women like you serving in public office outside Washington. You, in State legislatures and other State and local offices, are on the frontlines of democracy. You have a chance to put your beliefs into practice close to the people, closer than Washington can, and Washington can't match your ability to do that.

We look on you as our eyes and ears, as leaders who truly know what the American people think and need. And just as we're eager to see the number of Republican women officeholders grow at the national level, we're also determined to see those numbers grow in every American town, city, and State. And together, we Republicans are working to reshape America's destiny. And when historians write the story of these years, they'll find that skilled and talented women played vital roles.

Now, I know you've already had a number of briefings today and that this afternoon you'll hear about the women's program run by the Small Business Administration, projects at the Department of Agriculture and the Women's Bureau at the Department of Labor. But if I could just take a moment, I'd like to give you an overview of what this administration has been doing.

Just 3 years ago we inherited the worst economic mess in decades. Big taxing and spending had led to soaring inflation and interest rates, government redtape had smothered productivity. In January of '81 inflation was in double digits, the prime interest rate was at its highest peak since the Civil War, and growth in industry and productivity was disappearing.

When I think of what the Democrats had done to our economy, I feel a little bit like the little boy that came to his mother and asked her, he said, ``You know that jug that we have that you say has been passed down from generation to generation in our family?'' And she said, ``Yes, what about it?'' He said, ``I just broke it.''

Well, I think the broken economy hit women especially hard. The majority of elderly Americans living on fixed incomes are women, and they found their purchasing power eaten up by inflation. Working women saw jobs become more and more scarce. Homemakers found that 12\1/2\-percent inflation made it harder and harder to buy groceries and pay the bills. And the thousands of women who wanted to start their own businesses saw 21-percent prime rates slam shut the doors of opportunity. The American people were fed up, and they did a little house cleaning.

Our administration moved in, and with Republicans in control of the Senate we went to work to make a new beginning. Believe me, little of any of what we've accomplished could have been done if we had not held one House of the Congress.

We reduced the growth of Federal spending, we pruned needless regulations, we reduced personal income tax rates and passed an historic reform called ``tax indexing'' that means government can never again use inflation to profit at the people's expense.

Incidentally, we had a report just the other day on publications. We have reduced them by the thousands. These were publications that were being put out all over the Government here, useful things like how to buy eggs, and we figured that you could figure that out for yourselves. [Laughter]

To help all Americans achieve economic equality, we reduced the marriage tax penalty, almost doubled the maximum childcare credit, increased the limits for IRA and Keogh contributions, and eliminated estate taxes on family farms and businesses for surviving spouses.

Today, less than 3 years since we set our policies in place, our nation has one big program to help every American -- man, woman, and child. It's called economic recovery.

The prime rate is almost half what it was when we took office. Inflation has plummeted by three-fourths to only 3 percent for the past year, and this morning we received a golden piece of news that I want to share with you. It was announced early this morning. The producer price index increased by only two-tenths of 1 percent last month and by only six-tenths of 1 percent for all of 1983. And that's the lowest it's been in 19 years.

Now I remember when our critics were insisting that our tax cuts would make -- somebody's wanted on the phone [The President was referring to the sound of an audience member's telephone paging device.] -- [laughter] -- oh, all right -- would make inflation and interest rates soar, but just the opposite has happened.

And of course we know that factory orders, retail sales, housing starts are up. The stock market has come back to life. And the American worker's real wages are rising, and that's the first time that that's happened in a few years.

Unemployment is still too high, but it's dropping fast. Last year more than 4 million Americans found jobs. It was the steepest 12-month drop in unemployment in more than 30 years.

Since we took office, women have begun finding the economic opportunities they've deserved all along. With this recovery, you'll be glad to hear the unemployment rate among adult women has dropped from 9.1 percent to 7.1 percent. And today, more women have jobs than ever before in our nation's history. The jobs women hold are getting better and better. In 1983 women filled almost three-quarters of all the new jobs in managerial, professional, and technical fields. The number of women-owned businesses is growing four times faster than those owned by men.

And just as we're turning the economy around, we're bringing a new sense of purpose and direction to American foreign policy. Today the world knows once again that America stands for the political, religious, and economic freedom of humankind.

In Grenada, we set a nation free. With the help of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America, we've worked to develop a new consensus to support democracy in that region.

The peace process in Lebanon has been slow and painful, but there's been a genuine progress toward the goals of internal stability and the withdrawal of all foreign forces.

In Europe, the NATO alliance has held firm despite months of Soviet bluster. Sooner or later the Soviets will realize that arms reductions are in their interest, too. And when they do, we'll be at the table waiting for them, ready to go on negotiating from strength and in good faith.

I'm convinced that because we've strengthened our defenses and shown the world our willingness to negotiate the prospects for lasting world peace are better than they have been in many years. And I don't care how many Presidential candidates are out there yelling that we're threatened by imminent war. We have never been as far removed from that possibility as we have today, in the last several years. And that is because of our deterrent power. And we're going to continue on that.

All of us share a dream. It's a dream of a broad and open land that offers prosperity to all. It's a dream of a great country that represents a force for peace and goodwill among nations. It's a dream of a land where every citizen is judged not according to color, religion, or sex, but on the sole basis of individual merit; a land where every woman and man is free to become all that she or he can. And come to think of it, I wouldn't be surprised if one day, one of you had my job.

All of us are laboring in the name of that dream. Yes, we'll suffer setbacks and, yes, others will do all they can to place obstacles in our path. But if we have the courage to do all that we can to make our dream come true, then we will achieve great good in this world and do our duty by our country.

And I don't know what -- I'm not going to look at my clock, but I know that they've scheduled it very close and tight, but I've wanted to do this. And I know I only have a few minutes because we're going to have a chance to meet individually and shake hands and have our pictures taken. But maybe I've got time for a few questions. So, if someone has one -- yes?

State of the Union Address

Q. I'm Joan Hastings from Oklahoma. In the State of the State speech will there be any new initiatives for women? I know your record on women is very good, but in the State of the State speech will there be any new initiatives particularly recognized?

The President. Any new initiatives that we'll propose? Well, we haven't put that speech together, and I can't speak in too great a detail about it, but I can tell you one that's going to be in there: I want line-item veto.

But we'll have to wait a little bit while we find out how much we can get into that speech on other details. But we will be talking about our program for the future and the deficits and how to control them. And I think the deficits are caused because the Government is taking too big a share out of the general -- or the gross national product out of the private economy. And Government has got to be cut back to size.

Q. Mr. President, Pat Friebert from Kentucky. I'd like to thank you for this opportunity and to tell you how proud we are of you for your concern and your caring attitude towards women and women's issues.

The President. Well, thank you very much. That was an answer, not a question. [Laughter] Thank you very much.

Yes?

U.S. Immigration Policy

Q. Mr. President, I was told to ask you about the immigration policy. I'm from Miami, Florida, and we're quite concerned down there about immigrants.

The President. Well, we have what we think is a sensible program for immigration. There's no question but that our country has really, in fact, lost control of its own borders. And we have a program, and it's up there before the Congress, and so far they haven't let it out of committee, I understand. And we're going to keep pressing for it until we get it. And we're going to have, I think, policies in that legislation that are consistent with the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty and yet will give us control.

National Security

Q. Mr. President, I'm Mary Thompson from Las Cruces, New Mexico -- State representative. I work at White Sands, and among the people that I work with at White Sands there's a great deal of concern about security in this country and of the information that's leaving our borders. And we wondered what plans you have to strengthen our security and to retain the information in this country that we wish to keep here.

The President. I think you're talking about security having to do with things that would be of aid to an adversary -- technical information and so forth. Well, we have done much. Some of the things that were so widely hailed in the media as quarrels between us and our friends in Europe, our allies and so forth, actually were negotiations that have resulted in more unity than we've ever had with regard to joint control of that kind of sales or dissemination of information and the actual hardware. And we have a basic agreement with all of them.

We're very firm about that here, but security is one problem no matter how much you try to police something. We have just intercepted, as you know, a great shipment that was almost on its way through another country to the Soviet Union. And fortunately, our intelligence apparatus worked well enough that we intercepted and caught it there. It would have been of great assistance to anyone in improving their military capabilities. And we are working at that, and I think that our net is getting tighter and tighter in that regard. But we're very much aware of the problem, and we're not going to throw away any of these advantages.

My, it's a whole new world, isn't it, with technology? I remember when we were talking about scrap iron coming back to us in World War II as shrapnel.

Plans for Reelection

Q. Mr. President, Representative Jan McKenna from Fort Worth, Texas. A lot of us in Texas were wondering if you're planning on seeking reelection. [Laughter]

The President. I think I heard the magic words. [Laughter] You'll forgive me if I just stall a little about answering that, and I'll give you the word on January 29.

Communist Aggression in Central America

Q. Illeana Ros from Miami, Florida -- State representative. We all applaud your efforts in trying to decrease the Communist aggression throughout the world. I wanted to know your opinion of the Kissinger report as it relates to Central America policies and the Communist takeover of many of those countries.

The President. It is a magnificent report. That Commission, which was truly bipartisan -- and not just bipartisan in label, but bipartisan in philosophic belief -- I know that many of them went, started on that Commission with the idea that we were all wrong in what we were trying to do.

It is a magnificent report, and it substantiates the positions that we have been taking down there: There is a challenge to us to eliminate what has been going on for hundreds of years, the economic and social differences that make them vulnerable to this kind of takeover, but also the fact that you can't have social reforms while you're having your head shot off by guerrilla forces that are armed and supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba. And they confirmed that this is true. And so, we're going to follow up on this.

I think that one of the things they said in the report made so much sense. We have been trying to help El Salvador. El Salvador has the first effort at a democratic government in 400 years. Now, sure, they've got some rightists who didn't want that democratic government -- the so-called murder squads. But they're being assailed by thousands of left-wing guerrillas who also don't want a democratic government.

Now, we can't let either one of those factions destroy that effort at democracy. But because of limitations that have been imposed on us as to how much we can do in the line of helping them, actually what we've been doing is letting them slowly bleed to death. We have been helping, but not helping enough to rectify the wrongs or to give them the military capacity to be successful.

So, in that report -- it was very eloquently stated -- they said you can make a case for us doing nothing. Okay, walk away and leave them. Or you can make a case for us vastly increasing the help so they can bring about an answer. You cannot make a case for just helping them too little, and that's what we've been doing up until now. And we're really behind it. I think it's a magnificent report.

Efforts To Combat Drug Abuse

Q. Senator Stockton from Colorado. Mr. President, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for supporting Mrs. Reagan in her efforts to combat the drug scene. And I hope that your administration will continue to let her do that and will support her.

The President. Yes. You bet we're helping in that. And we're making great progress. We had one task force in Florida because that was the great entry point from out of the country, and in the South particularly, of drugs. And we've collected quite a fleet of yachts and cabin cruisers and airplanes and trucks and -- I saw for the first time in my life -- only time in my life -- something else we'd confiscated from these drug runners, and that was on one table -- $20 million in cash.

But now that's been so successful that we have expanded to 12 such task forces all around the country, because as we closed or partially closed one door, they started coming in in other places; and with our thousands of miles of coastline, we're pretty vulnerable to that. But they are having great effect.

But the main thing, and what Nancy's more interested in is this: I don't think there's any real way that you can totally shut off the flow of the drug itself. The best thing you can do is take the customers away from the sellers by talking them out of it. And that's what the programs that she's interested in -- and so many of you are -- are doing around the country, is convincing, particularly our young people, that that's not the road to go.

Ms. Reagan. Mr. President, are you deliberately not calling on me? [Laughter]

The President. I thought you were waving to tell me my time was up.

Ms. Reagan. Whatever you say. Thank you, Mr. President. [Laughter]

The President. I thought so. Sharper than a serpent's tooth. [Laughter]

All right. Thank you all. Thank you all, and God bless you. And I know we're going in the other room, and then I'm going to see you all individually again. Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:12 p.m. at a luncheon for the officials in the State Dining Room at the White House.

In his closing remarks, the President was speaking to his daughter Maureen.