Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Elected Republican Women Officials

March 2, 1984

Good afternoon, and welcome. It's good to see so many old friends and have a chance to make new ones. And a warm welcome to Congresswomen Olympia Snowe and Claudine Schneider. Where are you? There you are. All right.

And it's always a pleasure to be joined by two of the most important women in my life -- Nancy and Maureen. I want you to know Nancy warmed my heart recently when she introduced me at the Susan B. Anthony birthday celebration. She said that I had helped her and Maureen quite a lot through the years, and then she said, ``because, as we all know, behind every successful woman there's a dedicated man.'' [Laughter]

And my special congratulations are in order for one person here -- Connecticut State Senator Adela Eads. Happy birthday.

I'm pleased that we have with us some of our outstanding women from the White House Personnel and Legislative Offices, and I also notice we've been joined by a few of the men on our staff. They do sort of stand out. [Laughter] But many thanks to Jim Baker for inviting all of you here.

And permit me to begin by giving each of you high praise and heartfelt thanks for all you've done for our Republican cause. Politics has its share of fun and glamour, but in the end it's sheer, unrelenting hard work from people like you that makes it possible for us to put our beliefs into practice. And the role you play is especially important because you demonstrate the Republican commitment to American women.

The GOP commitment to women runs deep, from its support of women suffrage to when it was first to elect a woman to the United States Congress and the only party to ever elect women to the United States Senate who were not first filling 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. Now, isn't it time we give them more company?

In this administration, we've appointed 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, Assistant to the President for Public Liaison, Faith Whittlesey, and many other women on the White House staff who are with us today. And one of my proudest days in office was when I appointed Sandra Day O'Connor to be the first woman in history on the United States Supreme Court.

But just as important, today there are thousands of able Republican women like you that are serving in public office outside Washington. You in State legislatures and other State and local offices are on the frontlines of democracy, putting your beliefs into practice close to the people. We look on you 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 determined to see those numbers grow in every American town, city, and State. And together, we Republicans are working to reshape America's destiny. Everyone who takes part, from stuffing envelopes to running for town council to holding national office, is making history.

And I know you're having briefings all day, but if I could just take a moment I'd like to give you an overview of some of our accomplishments. And if you've heard it before, please don't stop me -- [laughter] -- I enjoy saying it so much.

Just 3 years ago, we inherited a mess: soaring inflation and interest rates and declining productivity. And the month that I stood on the steps of the Capitol to take my oath of office, inflation was in double digits and the prime interest rate had hit the highest peak since the Civil War.

The economic crisis struck women hard. The majority of elderly Americans living on fixed incomes are women, and they found their purchasing power eaten up by that inflation. Working women saw jobs become more and more scarce. Homemakers found that 12\1/2\-percent inflation made it a nightmare to try and buy groceries and pay the bills. And the thousands of women who wanted to start their own businesses saw 21-percent prime rate slam shut the doors of opportunity.

When we took office, the economy was job one. And with Republicans in control of the Senate, we moved quickly to set our program in place. And believe me, if we had not had one House of the Congress, we couldn't have achieved what we've achieved so far.

We reduced the growth of Federal spending. We pruned needless regulations. George Bush was in charge of that, and we hacked them out by the score. We reduced personal income tax rates, passed an historic tax reform called indexing, which means that government can never again use inflation to profit at the people's expense. We reduced the marriage tax penalty, almost doubled the maximum child care credit, increased the limits for IRA and Keogh contributions, and eliminated estate taxes on family farms and businesses for surviving spouses.

Now today, from Maine to California, a powerful economic recovery is taking place. The prime rate is almost half what it was when we took office. Inflation has plummeted by two-thirds, to about 4 percent. Factory orders, retail sales, and housing starts are up. Speaking of housing, this morning the news was released for January: 688,000 new houses were sold in America and, except for December of 1983, that was the highest figure for any month since 1979.

The American worker's real wages are rising. The stock market has come back to life, providing new funds for growing sectors of the economy and raising the value of pension funds where millions of workers have their retirement savings. The best news of all is that last year more than 4 million Americans found jobs. That's the steepest 12-month drop in the unemployment rate in more than 30 years.

The economic crisis hit women hard, but today's recovery is giving women new opportunities. 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. And the jobs women hold are getting better and better. In 1983 women filled over 60 percent of all the new jobs in managerial, professional, and technical fields. And the number of women-owned businesses is growing twice as fast as those owned by men.

In foreign policy, we're acting with a new firmness and sense of purpose. From Central America to Western Europe to an island called Grenada, we've worked to defend freedom and peace. And while events in Lebanon have been painful, our presence there has prevented far greater destruction and loss of life than would otherwise have taken place. In our dealings with the Soviets, the prospects for world peace stand on a new and firm footing.

Let me take just a moment to mention two vital matters now that are before the Congress, and the first is crime. For too many years the scales of justice have been tilted in favor of the criminals, with devastating results. Rising crime rates, a flood of illegal drugs, billions of dollars worth of property stolen or destroyed each year, and, worst of all, millions of Americans living their daily lives in fear. We were determined to restore balance to our criminal justice system, and I think we've made genuine progress.

In 1982 the crime rate dropped by 4.3 percent, and that was the sharpest decline in 10 years. But we still have much to do. Recently the Senate passed our comprehensive crime control act and several other related crime bills. But in the House, the Democrats have stalled these vital bills by bottling them up in committee.

Now let me give you some examples of the reforms the House Democrats are blocking. One reform makes sentencing more uniform and certain. There's nothing complicated about this. The sentence imposed should be the sentence served. Why should any right-minded person oppose that reform? Another reform involving the so-called exclusionary rule would allow evidence obtained reasonably and in good faith to be used in a criminal trial. It would help keep criminals from going free on technicalities. Now, who could object to that in good conscience?

I have a favorite story I like to tell as an example of the exclusionary rule at work. It was in California, San Bernardino, several years ago. Two narcotics agents with a legitimate warrant, obtained in the legal way, to search a house where they believed heroin was being sold, searched the house and couldn't find the heroin. A man and woman lived there. And they were starting out the door when one of them, on a hunch, just turned back to the crib where the sleeping baby lay and took off its diapers and there was the heroin. Evidence thrown out of court; they went free because the baby had not given its permission to be searched.

Well, we think these crime bills should be above partisan politics, and I urge you to join in pressing for action.

The second issue is school prayer. I deeply believe that the loving God who gave us this land should never have been expelled from America's classrooms. If the Congress can begin its day with prayer, children can, too. Not that Congress maybe doesn't need it more than the children do -- [laughter] -- present company excepted. [Laughter]

But I think the country agrees with this. The polls show that by a majority of 80 percent, the American people want voluntary prayer back in our schools. Soon the Senate will vote on a constitutional amendment to permit voluntary vocal prayer in our schools. If the amendment passes the Senate, we'll have to work to get a vote in the House. But neither one will happen without our support. If ever there was a time for the people of this country to make their voices heard, that time is now.

Please support the school prayer amendment in your home States, and tell your Senators and Representatives here in Washington where you stand. Passage of the amendment would reaffirm one of the most fundamental American values -- faith.

President Lincoln's portrait hangs above the fireplace in this room. And more than a century ago, he said America was the last, best hope of Earth. Well, today the light of that hope is once again aglow. Together, we can make it a shining beacon for all mankind.

Thank you, and God bless you. And let's have dessert. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 12:53 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.