Radio Address to the Nation on the Budget Deficit and the Middle East

October 5, 1985

My fellow Americans:

Today I'd like to talk to you about two matters: a dramatic new legislative proposal and recent events in the Middle East.

First, the new proposal: Yesterday I gave my enthusiastic support to what might well become historic legislation -- the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 -- introduced by Senator Phil Gramm of Texas and Senator Warren Rudman of New Hampshire. This legislation will impose the discipline our government has so long lacked to control its insatiable appetite to spend. Under this proposal the Federal Government, by law, would be required to lock in a deficit reduction path leading to a balanced budget. This would be achieved without raising taxes, without jeopardizing our defenses, and without breaking our commitments on Social Security. The proposal would establish a maximum allowable deficit ceiling, beginning with the current level of $180 billion, and then mandate that this deficit be reduced -- by equal amounts each year -- until we reach a balanced budget in calendar year 1990. Moreover, I personally believe in, and I've asked Congress to put in place, a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution to take effect in 1991. By doing this, we could make sure that our progress would not be lost.

The importance of the proposal to eliminate deficit spending can hardly be overstated. For decades Federal spending has been growing virtually out of control. It took 173 years, from the establishment of our government in 1789 to the Kennedy administration in 1962, for the annual budget of the United States to reach $100 billion. It took only the next 9 years for the budget to double to 200 billion, and in the 14 years since, it has more than quadrupled to over 900 billion. Not surprisingly, as the Government has been spending like a drunken sailor, it's taken our country deeper and deeper into the red. Indeed, today the Federal deficit amounts to more than $211 billion.

Now, this deficit has not -- and I repeat, not -- developed because of our tax cut. On the contrary, government revenues have actually been rising rapidly since we cut tax rates -- 42 percent since we started, but spending has increased by 60 percent. But overall, since our tax cut, government has still spent more than it has taken in. It sort of reminds me of that old definition of a baby -- an enormous appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other. Well, with the passage of the bill I endorsed yesterday, the Government of the United States can show that, at long last, we are growing up, and we're gaining that sense of responsibility. The Senate is debating this proposal today, and I strongly urge them to approve it before the debt limit authority expires on Monday.

Let me add here a personal caveat: While spending control is vital to the economic well-being of this nation, the highest priority of any American Government is preservation of the national security. The maintenance of a national defense second to none, indeed, the only legitimate justification for running a large annual deficit -- as we ran every year of World War II -- is preservation of the Nation, itself. When the spending cuts are made by this administration, as they must be made, the security of this country, its allies, and its friends will not be put at risk. The Congress has agreed, and next year I will propose those amounts already accepted as necessary for keeping the peace.

Permit me now to turn to recent events in the Middle East. In shock and dismay, we've watched murderous attacks on Israeli civilians, and in response, an Israeli military raid on a PLO headquarters in a country that is an old friend of the United States. Now we hear that one of our American hostages in Lebanon may have been murdered, as was a Soviet citizen earlier this week. This return to violence is abhorrent. All the more so because it's so useless. Armed struggle has solved nothing. There is no military option for resolving the difficult conflicts of the Middle East. The only way to bring a lasting end to this dreadful cycle of violence is to deal with the circumstances that underlie it through negotiations -- direct, peaceful negotiations among the parties concerned.

Permit me to close by mentioning the gifted statesman whose country was affected by this week's violent events, President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia. Farseeing and wise, President Bourguiba has been a true friend to America for decades. There is a particularly bitter irony about events of the past week because President Bourguiba was one of the very first to urge a negotiated settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Our hearts go out to him and to the innocent Tunisians swept up in this violence. In this horror, our hope lies in statesmen like President Bourguiba and King Hussein, President Mubarak and Prime Minister Peres. They are men of vision and peace; they deserve our support and our prayers.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.