Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Elected Republican Women Officials

February 17, 1984

I once learned that you're never supposed to open any remarks with an apology, but I must, because I am the reason for -- of being delayed a little bit and it was late coming here. And I have to explain the reason I was late. I was getting connected to Yugoslavia so that I could congratulate on behalf of all Americans Scott Hamilton for winning the gold.

Now, about that introduction and that line that was used in introducing me the other night by Mrs. Reagan. I had always heard that an emcee was to be so dull in introducing those to follow that they would appear brilliant by contrast. [Laughter] She got the biggest laugh of the night. [Laughter]

But I'm delighted to welcome you here. And it's good to see so many friends and to have a chance to make some new ones. I want to thank all of you for what you're doing to advance the goals and ideals that unite us. It's you, the officeholders in State capitals and communities all across America, who are putting our beliefs into practice.

And I believe that America is moving forward again, and it's not because of any magic in Washington. The only magicians are on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue -- sleight-of-hand artists who have a way of taking your tax dollars and making them disappear. [Laughter] But it's your drive, energy, and determination that make the difference. And that's why America's future is looking better every day.

My spirits are high for another reason as well. I'm able to share these few moments with two of the most important women in my life -- Nancy and Maureen. And, you know, I only work a few hundred feet from here, but I rarely get home for lunch. [Laughter]

Maureen did a little research for me, and I know that even before women had the right to vote, our party became the first to elect a woman to the United States Congress. Well, that's the Republican Party tradition, and I'm determined to build on it. The only women in the Senate, Nancy Kassebaum and Paula Hawkins, are Republicans, not to mention our nine outstanding Republican Congresswomen. Now, don't you think it's about time we gave them some more company?

We're calling on the talents and leadership of women in a big way. For the first time in history, three women are in the Cabinet at the same time -- Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler, and Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole. Ambassador Faith Whittlesey has brought her talent to our White House staff.

And all told, more than a thousand women hold policymaking posts in our administration. And one of my proudest days was when Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman justice in the history of the Supreme Court. In counting the votes sometimes and some of the issues in these last 3 years, I've had reason to cheer her being there.

But just as important, thousands of able Republican women like you are serving on the frontlines in public offices all across America. We want to see the number of Republican women officeholders growing here in Washington and in every American town and city and State. Someday a woman's going to have my job. Let's make sure it's a Republican woman.

When historians write about these years, they're going to find that very skilled and talented women played a key role in putting America back on her feet. Challenges are still before us, and together we Republicans can turn them into opportunities.

Three weeks ago in my State of the Union Address, I talked about how far we've come since those days in 1980 when we were hearing sorry excuses about some sort of malaise that the American people suffered. Well, I won't belabor the point, but have you figured out why our critics are going around the country moaning and groaning? Maybe we should speak a little louder about the one big program that is helping every man, woman, and child in America. It's called economic recovery.

By turning the economy around, we've helped everyone, and particularly women. The majority of elderly Americans are women. And double-digit inflation in 1979 and 1980 was destroying their purchasing power. Now inflation is only 3.2 percent.

Thousands of women who wanted to start their own businesses saw 21-percent prime interest rates slam shut the doors of opportunity. Well, those interest rates have been cut nearly in half. And if Congress will cooperate, we can do even better.

Personal income tax rates have been reduced, and indexing begins next year, meaning that government can no longer profit at the taxpayer's expense. We reduced the marriage tax penalty and almost doubled the maximum child care credit. We increased the limits for IRA and Keough contributions. And we've eliminated estate taxes on family farms and businesses for surviving spouses.

From solid growth in housing -- new housing starts in January were at their highest since 1978 -- to new frontiers in high technology and from a healthy recovery in real wages to the sharpest drop in unemployment in nearly 33 years, we have good reason to be proud of what's been accomplished. For 13 months we have been putting an average of 300,000 people a month back into jobs and off the unemployment rolls.

Believe me, if we didn't control one House of the Congress, none of that could ever have been done. There's still so much to do, more to do in ensuring women's rights, providing for equitable treatment in pension benefits and IRAs, facilitating child and dependent care, and enforcing delinquent parent support payments. And we've introduced legislation in all these areas to accomplish these goals.

Unemployment is now down to 7.9 percent. The unemployment rate among adult women has dropped from 9.1 to 7.1 percent. And today more women have jobs than ever before in our nation's history. But I won't be satisfied until every American who wants a job can find a job.

We need basic budget and tax reforms like the line-item veto, a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget, and tax simplification, so that we can make sure the progress we're enjoying will continue for generations to come. And I believe we must also move boldly to develop the enormous potential of space while preserving our resources here on Earth -- our land, water, and air. And let us preserve our other resources which are just as precious -- our values of faith, family, work, neighborhood, peace, and freedom, the values that have made us a good and a loving people.

Just as we're turning the economy around, there's a new sense of purpose and direction to America's foreign policy. Back in 1981 we had an uncomfortable feeling that we'd lost respect overseas. Some questioned whether we had the will to defend peace and freedom. Well, 3 years later, the world knows once more what America stands for -- freedom, dignity, and peace for everywhere, for people from Asia to Central and South America.

And that brings me to two final points. The first has to do with the Soviet Union. For the first time in years, we're on the way to restoring a constructive dialog, one that builds stability and is so essential for peace. Time and again, in public statements and in private communications to the Soviet leadership, I've stressed our commitment to a serious and intensive dialog, one aimed at building a more constructive relationship. Avoiding war and reducing arms is the starting point.

But I want to accomplish much more. And all that's needed is a good-faith effort on both sides. That's the message that Vice President Bush carried to Moscow earlier this week. And the Vice President emphasized once again America's desire for greater mutual understanding and genuine cooperation between our two countries.

America has always been ready to meet the Soviets halfway. To find solutions to the many problems that divide us and to reach fair arms reduction agreements. If the new Soviet leadership decides to join us in a good-faith effort, we can accomplish much good together. And there's no better time to start than right now.

Finally, let me say a few words about recent events in the Middle East. We all know the peace process has been painfully slow but we must continue to search for peace and stability as long as there's a chance to bring it about.

For the past 35 years, the United States has been working to build peace and stability in that troubled region. Most of that effort has been focused on resolving the conflict between Israel and her Arab neighbors. Lebanon's troubles are just part of the overall problem in the Middle East, and her internal strife has only made it worse. The most recent outbreak of violence reaffirms the importance of redoubling our efforts to find a peaceful solution to the fundamental problems of the region. And we're trying to do just that.

Earlier this week I met with King Hussein of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt. We discussed our September 1982 Middle East plan and ways to move the peace process forward -- both of them in complete agreement that this should be done, and they want to be of help. We're pursuing every avenue in the search for peace and stability.

Well now, that's -- I've gone on long enough. When you get back home, tell people what we stand for, what we've done, and how far, together, we can still go.

We can make our dreams come true. The Republican Party needs you, and so does America. So, temporarily, I'll say, ``Good luck, and God bless you'' -- and we'll have dessert.

Note: The President spoke at 12:55 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.