Remarks at a Dinner for the Republican Congressional Leadership

March 10, 1986

Senator Majority Leader and Mrs. Secretary of Transportation Dole -- I managed that one -- [laughter] -- Republican Leader Michel and Senators and Members of the House and ladies and gentlemen, having been on the mashed-potato circuit in an earlier life, I know the danger of before-dinner speeches. Of course, there are pitfalls for every speaker.

You know, there was a young minister, and one day he was asking for a little sympathy from an older, more experienced minister, when he said that some of those hot summer Sundays he would look out while he was preaching his sermon and the congregation would seem to be dozing off. And the older preacher said, ``Well, I know, I've had that experience, but,'' he said, ``I found an answer to it.'' He said, ``When that begins to happen in the middle of your sermon, you just interrupt and say, `I want you all to know that last night I held in my arms a woman who was another man's wife.' And,'' he said, ``that'll wake them up.'' [Laughter] ``And then,'' he says, ``you say to them, `And that woman was my dear mother.''' [Laughter] Well, time went by, and sure enough there was a Sunday and the young preacher was going at it. But they were beginning to doze off, and the kids were writing notes to each other, and some of the women were knitting, but mainly they were dozing off. And he remembered what he'd been told, so he said, ``I want you all to know that last night I held in my arms a woman who was another man's wife.'' And suddenly he was facing all those staring eyes, and everyone was awake. And he tried to continue, and he said, ``And that woman -- I forget who she was.'' [Laughter]

It's a pleasure to be with you this evening. Bob Dole and Bob Michel have been true champions of freedom and opportunity in the United States Congress. And I just hope we can bring to Congress more men and women just like them. We're preparing ourselves for a historic election. In November the American people will determine the membership of the 100th Congress of the United States. And I want to thank each of you for what you're doing to ensure that the 100th Congress is filled with the kind of dedicated and right-thinking individuals who will keep our country strong, prosperous, and at peace.

The battle we face is particularly vital, as you've been told, in regard to the United States Senate. I have no hesitation in stating that little of what we've accomplished in these last 5 years could have been done without Republican control of the United States Senate. And if you want to try -- and one day maybe we can get to it -- you might also figure that Bob Michel should be the Speaker, not just the Minority Leader of the House. It can't be forgotten that after 4 years of total Democrat control of the Federal Government, both Houses of Congress, the executive branch, and all the departments and agencies, our people were suffering. Inflation, murderous interest rates, economic decline, and national uncertainty were the order of the day.

The people who created the mess still cannot bring themselves to admit that the culprit that wreaked such havoc and hardship on our people was their very own policies. I think America's spectacular rebound underscores that our country wasn't suffering from tired blood in the late 1970's. It was suffering from tired ideas -- wrong ideas. The liberals attribute all the success we've had in the last 5 years to luck, global trends, and the celestial effects of Halley's Comet -- [laughter] -- anything and everything except the real source of our progress. The reason things have turned around is that we have come at the problems facing America with a fundamentally different philosophy than what preceded us. Liberals called on government to play an ever-increasing role in the lives of our people. They relied on central planning, regulations, and bureaucracy. Is there any doubt about why our country in the late 1970's seemed to be humming along with all the efficiency of a Bulgarian shoe factory? [Laughter] If central planning were the way to a better world, we'd be importing our grain from the Soviet Union and not the other way around.

There's a story, incidentally, about a May Day parade in Moscow. First came the tanks and then the armored personnel carriers and the artillery and the missiles and then the marching troops with fixed bayonets, and finally at the end a black sedan with red flags flying and filled with men in gray suits. And a visitor from our part of the world who was there for the occasion asked a local citizen, ``What is that?'' And the fellow said, ``That's our most lethal weapon. They're Socialist economists.'' [Laughter]

Well, by trusting in the people rather than government planners, by leaving resources in their hands instead of taking them away, we unleashed the most powerful and creative force on this planet: the American free enterprise system. Instead of giving government more power, we asked the people to accept more responsibility. Our reforms and tax rate reductions kicked off what is now 39 straight months of economic growth. The glitch in last month's unemployment figures notwithstanding, more jobs have been created than in any industrialized nation or than all of our trading partners in Europe put together -- more than 9 million, as a matter of fact, almost 10 million new jobs since the recovery began. And today there are more Americans employed than ever before -- I should say a higher percentage of Americans of the total population employed than in the entire history of this nation. And more progress can be expected on this front as the economy picks up in the months ahead. The vitality of our small business, spurred on by the proliferation of computer technology, is giving a new dimension to the words ``innovation'' and ``enterprise.'' Confounding the so-called experts, at the same time, growth has been high, inflation has remained at its lowest level in 25 years. And with interest rates edging down and the stock market shooting up, there is every reason for unbridled optimism about the future.

And tonight I want to express my deep appreciation to Senator Dole for the indispensable role that he has played in all of this. His leadership in the Senate, his strong hand and his responsible voice, have made a difference. He's forged a tough working alliance between the Senate and the executive branch. And, Bob, from the heart, I thank you.

With Gramm-Rudman-Hollings before us, there's much to be done in the weeks ahead. Now, I know that the gloom and doomers have been claiming that meeting the deficit reduction targets will require us to do everything but close down the Federal Government. Bob, you know, I'll bet if we left it up to the people in Kansas, they might just go for that. [Laughter] Seriously, though, I'm confident that with responsible trimming and Bob's leadership we can reach the deficit-reduction targets. Gramm-Rudman-Hollings gives us the opportunity to cut through politics. It opens the way for some much needed structural change -- fundamental reform that will prevent future generations from being put behind the same deficit-spending eight ball as we are today.

As we work together to meet the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings targets, let's complement our effort with the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 225, the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The American people know what it means to live within a family budget. They don't spend their hard-earned salaries on things that aren't absolutely necessary. And a balanced budget amendment would force Congress to be no less diligent with the people's money.

Experience suggests that government needs to operate within well-defined limits. The original purpose of our Constitution was not to give government power but to protect liberty by limiting the power of government. I've read a great many of the constitutions of other countries, other democracies, and also the Constitution of the Soviet Union. Even in that one, I found many things that are in our own. They don't observe it, of course -- [laughter] -- but they're in there. But where lies the difference in these constitutions -- and I've taken great pleasure in telling this to student audiences -- all those other constitutions say, ``We, the Government, allow you, the people, the following privileges,'' and so forth. Ours says, ``We, the people, allow the Government the following powers, and they have no other powers than those that are listed here, given to them by our permission.''

And in protecting the people, Thomas Jefferson once suggested that one thing left out of the Constitution was a provision to limit the Federal Government's power to borrow. Well, it's about time we got around to following Jefferson's suggestion. I look forward to the day when I can run down there to that monument and see if that statue is smiling. [Laughter] The power to spend and the power to tax, of course, go hand in hand. Senator Hatch is proposing an amendment to Senate Joint Resolution 225 which would require a full constitutional majority from the Senate and the House, not just those present, from the total number, for the passage of any tax increase. And I'm certain Thomas Jefferson would like that one as well.

What we're doing is laying the foundation for the country that our children will inherit. One crucial decision we must make in the days ahead concerns what we're willing to do to counter a real and growing threat to our south. As President of the United States, the security of our country is, by law, my paramount responsibility. Congress, however, is no less duty bound to America's safety. All of us in the debate over how to counter the Communist drive in Central America will be held accountable if, because of an inability to act, our country is put into jeopardy.

During his many years in the Senate, Bob Dole has supported those commitments necessary for the security of our country. He's been a stalwart supporter of the freedom fighters because he knows that helping them is not only the right thing to do, it is critical to the safety of our country. We never want to ask who lost Central America. We must work together, all of us in both parties, to see that it never happens.

Ladies and gentlemen, we live in exciting times. As you know, that's a Chinese curse. Well, we need not look at it that way. For free men and women, for Americans, there will always be exciting times because the future is in our hands. People all over the world look to us; the future generations of Americans depend on us. This is not a burden; this is a challenge. And I think we have every reason to be confident. In these last few years, we've recaptured that spirit of enterprise and love of liberty at the heart of what it means to be an American and against which no tyranny will ever prevail. So you just make sure that in the days ahead, the gentleman here on the platform tonight remains the majority leader of the Senate, Bob Michel -- [inaudible].

Thank you all. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the J.W. Marriott Hotel.