Radio Address to the Nation on the Federal Budget

February 1, 1986

My fellow Americans:

This has been a difficult week for the United States. I know we've all been deeply shaken by the tragedy of the space shuttle Challenger. America has suffered a great national loss, and we mourn as one people united in our grief. Yet as I said to young Americans last Tuesday, we must also find courage to push on. The future does not belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them. Nothing ends here. Our hopes and our journeys continue. Great challenges demand heroic struggles. We tend to forget, it being 19 years since our last space program setback, that progress often does not come without great cost or daunting risks.

Nowhere is that lesson clearer than here in Washington, DC. The Federal Government has been living beyond its means for 24 of the last 25 years. Government has been taxing and spending your earnings as though they are inexhaustible, as though there need never be the kind of struggle to make ends meet that families undergo each week. And this is why we have nearly a $2 trillion debt hanging over our future. All of us were told by our parents, ``You've got to face reality.'' Well, today we as a nation must face the reality that deficit spending, if permitted to continue, could eat away the economic gains we've made these last few years and undermine the well-being of our children.

Recent passage of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings amendment was an admission by the Congress that zero hour is upon us, that America must make decisions we've never been willing to make before. Gramm-Rudman-Hollings will force the Congress to meet a deficit target by steadily reducing the growth in Federal spending. Each year the deficit must be cut by a fixed amount until it is brought down to zero in fiscal year 1991. If the Congress fails to make the necessary cuts, the law provides for across-the-board cuts to assure the deficit target is met. Today I have ordered Federal agencies to carry out the first round of across-the-board cuts required under the law -- $11.7 billion.

I'm confident we can achieve these reductions while maintaining government services. Nevertheless, these budget savings make no distinction between high priority programs and those of little merit. Our administration's 1987 budget takes a different and better approach to meeting the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit targets. We propose to reform or eliminate the programs and activities that are either too big or that shouldn't exist at all. And we propose to transfer programs that should be handled by State and local governments or private enterprise consistent with their traditional responsibilities. At the same time, we'll keep faith with the fundamental commitments we made to the American people.

First, we will not cut the essential programs to anyone who needs such assistance; nor will we cut Social Security payments to those who've paid their dues to society.

Second, we will insist on modest but steady growth to sustain the defense program set in motion 5 years ago. When we came to Washington in 1981, U.S. military security had been shamefully neglected. We hadn't built a new land-based strategic missile system since the 1960's, and we'd been dismantling our nuclear warheads even as the Soviet Union was racing forward with the most awesome military buildup in history. The morale and training of our Armed Forces was sinking. An alarming percentage of our planes and ships couldn't take off or leave port. And the supply of basic munitions, like bullets and artillery shells, had fallen to an unacceptably low level. The Soviets want nothing more than to see America flinch and forsake the rebuilding program we've worked so hard to get started. We've spent 5 years making our military more competitive and America secure again. We must not permit this vital work to be undone in the second term.

Third, let me make it plain that our budget will not increase taxes on the American people, because any tax increase the Congress sends me will be DOA, dead on arrival. We haven't built 37 months of economic expansion and created over 9 million jobs by raising taxes on the people; we've done it by increasing opportunity. And building an American opportunity society for tomorrow is the vision that must continue to unite and inspire us in the days ahead.

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

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