Remarks to Business Leaders During a White House Briefing on the Federal Budget and Deficit Reduction

October 18, 1985

Thank you, and it's a pleasure to add my welcome to the others that I know you've already had.

Change in a free society is never easy, and the battle for a balanced budget is no exception. And that's why we have asked you here today -- or have you guessed that? We need some help from the first string. Many of us have been slugging it out on the issue of deficit spending for a number of years, many years. I think that we now have a window of opportunity to establish -- or accomplish what we have so long strived for. We cannot let this opportunity pass, and I hope I can count on every one of you to maximize your efforts in the days ahead.

The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction plan, if passed, will be a landmark victory for responsible government. The need for structural reform has been evident to some of us for quite some time, and that's why we've been raising our voices in support of a balanced budget amendment. What we haven't realized, however, and what is clear now is that there is also need for a transition to that point where structural change is possible. And that's what Gramm-Rudman-Hollings is all about. This farsighted and practical proposal gives us an enforceable method of reducing the budget deficit each year, leaving us with a balanced budget by 1990. An end to deficits can be made permanent with an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring a balanced budget and preventing us from ever getting behind the eight ball again.

The passage of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings will be an affirmation to the entire country -- well, yes, even to the world -- that we Americans have finally gotten serious about deficit spending. Gramm-Rudman-Hollings will replace ``no way'' with ``can do.'' We can, if we have the will to do it, bring the deficit down without raising taxes and without undermining our national security. Now, let me just underscore that last point. No one should look at our energetic support of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings as an indication that America's military strength is going to be weakened. There's too much at stake. We must keep this country strong and at peace. We'll continue spending what is necessary in this vital area, but no more, no less.

During the last election much was said on this issue. I think any political figure who declaimed in front of the voters against the deficit owes it to the people to support this bipartisan approach or explain him or herself. I'm counting on each of you to help me let our fellow citizens know who's standing in the way and who's clearing the way. Or, put in the vernacular of the 1960's, who's part of the solution or who's part of the problem. By being here today, we figure that you're part of the solution. The big spenders, still trying to hold on to the free-wheeling days of the past, have got to realize how serious the American people are about this. The American people are watching, and I don't think they'll tolerate obstructionism. Those politicians who try to scuttle this reform in the fall of 1985 do so at their own peril.

But I must tell you, I am optimistic. I think we can be proud of the foursquare example the Senate has set on this issue. The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings amendment passed the United States Senate with the support of a majority of members of both parties and is now in a House-Senate conference committee. If you hear some unusual noises floating in through the window, that's what's going on. [Laughter] Our elected representatives must know that on this issue, no one is anonymous; everyone is on record. If they understand this, then we'll be on the edge of an historic victory. But your perseverance is needed, and we can't afford to wait a day. I hope you'll be up on the Hill this afternoon to let them know how high a priority Gramm-Rudman-Hollings is on your agenda. And as I have said already today to another group of individuals who you might run into up on the Hill, it isn't necessary that you make them see the light, just make them feel the heat. [Laughter]

Having worked in my current job going on 5 years now, I have a perspective on our country I'd like to share. As I mentioned earlier, change is never easy in a democracy. I'm proud of the changes that we've made. But each time we've succeeded, it's always been due to the efforts of the people. Certainly, political leaders have meetings and talk about differences, but when fundamental change happens, it's because the people are involved, giving leverage to those that are fighting for the right. In this particular case, the American people want us to end this deficit spending that has been mortgaging the future of our children and undercutting confidence in our own. We have it in our power to put this problem behind us. When we do, I predict a new surge of optimism will be felt throughout our land. It will sweep us into a time of prosperity as never imagined. And pardon me for using a phrase from the campaign, but when we get deficit spending under control, as far as the economic progress we've enjoyed so far, well, you ain't seen nothin' yet!

I've been telling some people some figures -- and I just will close with this -- that prove -- I know there's a great deal of controversy and everybody's expressing opinions out there -- well, who's to blame for the deficit? The deficit is built into the structure of our government. And the greatest proof of that I can give you is that 1965 to 1980 -- 15 years -- in those 15 years, the budget increased to five times what it was in 1965; the deficit increased to 50 times what it was in 1965. And that rate of increase has continued through the years we've been here. In spite of our efforts to cut, all we've been able to do is reduce the increase in spending. We've fought every year for a number of cuts, and now we've come to the conclusion that this thing of instead of every year, trying to whittle away here and there and hope we can get enough votes to do so and hope that one day the budget deficit will disappear.

But today the idea is -- with this amendment I've been talking about -- is a 5-year plan in which you look at the rate of decrease in the deficit and you can point to a year down here in which sticking to this plan -- that is the balanced budget and, then, we get that constitutional amendment and make sure that Uncle Sam gets off his sailor's binge and stays within the limits of the revenues.

Well, thank you all for being here. Go get 'em! And God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:14 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.