Remarks on Signing the Message to the House of Representatives Returning Without Approval the Water Quality Act of 1987

January 30, 1987

The President. Welcome to the Old Executive Office Building. I'm still trying to find out how they got this thing built, because I think it was built before they had those big derricks. [Laughter] Well, it's good to see so many old friends and allies from the many battles of the budget that we've fought together. Despite the momentum of 30 years of steady growth in Federal spending, we've made, in these past 6 years, dramatic progress. For the first time in more than a decade, in real terms, the Federal Government this fiscal year is spending less than a year ago. And they said it couldn't be done.

Well, with Federal spending gradually being reined in, we've been able to reduce tax rates, bring inflation under control, and unleash the greatest antipoverty engine known to man: the free enterprise system of the United States of America. In the last 50 months almost 13 million new jobs have been created; 61 percent of the population over 16 years old -- the highest on record -- has gone to work. The stock market has doubled in value. And we've embarked upon what could become the longest peacetime expansion since the Second World War. These are tremendous accomplishments, accomplishments that must be protected. Which brings me to the subject of this gathering today.

In the last 2 weeks, as its first major official act, the 100th Congress enacted an $18 billion sewage treatment program that is so loaded with waste and larded with pork I cannot in conscience sign it. Not only is this act of Congress unacceptable as written, it is sad and deeply troubling for what it portends. Let me give you a brief history of this legislation. In 1985 we proposed a generous $6 billion program to carry on and win the fight against pollution in America's estuaries, lakes, rivers, and streams. Both political parties long ago agreed on the need for this legislation, and I felt that the executive branch and the Congress could surely agree on the amount. Well, last fall, however, as the campaign began to heat up, Congress tripled our proposal to $18 billion; and I was forced to use a pocket veto to protect the budget gains that we had made.

Early in the new year, in a spirit of compromise, we offered to Congress a doubling of the spending that we had proposed -- in other words, splitting the difference. We would go to $12 billion, and we found ways and means to achieve this within the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit targets. By offering to split the difference, we felt we could solve the problem to everyone's satisfaction and get on with the business of government. Not only, however, did the new Congress spurn our compromise, it sent down the same old $18 billion budget-buster with virtually unanimous support, defying me to veto again a piece of legislation that had something in it for most of the Members of both Houses.

Well, I accept that challenge, and I am vetoing this legislation. And let me tell you why. First, countless projects in this bill have less to do with water than they do with the politics of the pork barrel, with enabling Members of Congress to go home to their districts and say: Look how I brought home the bacon. Second, if this legislation is allowed to pass without my protest, it'll send a powerful signal to the markets of the Nation and the world that the United States has, once again, abandoned the high road of fiscal responsibility, that we're, once again, starting down the same dismal and discredited path of spend and spend that led to the near ruination of our economy less than a decade ago.

Now, I know this veto is going to be overridden. I know I do not have the votes to sustain it. But it's time we did the right thing -- all of us -- regardless of the political fallout. Just 3 nights ago, the Congress of the United States rose in unanimous applause when I declared from the Speaker's podium that the U.S. budget deficit was unacceptable and outrageous. Well, I'm now asking them to stand with me in the first great battle of the deficit in the 100th Congress. My friends on Capitol Hill, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot vote to radically increase deficits one day and decry them before the Nation the next. It's time for a little more political courage, a little more political consistency on the part of all of us.

With this veto I am imploring the Congress, once again, to stop, reflect, and reconsider before plunging ahead on this course. Do you really want to return to the politics of spend and spend? Do you really want to put at risk the immense progress that we've made together? Do you really want to aggravate a budget deficit as the primary cause of a trade deficit that has already cost thousands and thousands of American jobs? Let's not belly up to the same old bar, and let's not drive down that dangerous road again. Let's work together, both for clean water and responsible government.

In closing, let me say to both the Congress and the American people: I trust that this budget-busting water and sewer bill, the first major legislation of the new 100th Congress, proves to be an exception to the rule, an isolated error, and not a harbinger of things to come. For if it is, then Congress will not only have chosen to embark on a collision course with the executive branch, it would have risked, one day, being held fully accountable for derailing perhaps the greatest recovery the American people have ever known. Now, one bad test does not mean failing grades. So, let's hope that this is not a trend. And with that said, I shall take pen in hand.

Audience member. Just say no! [Laughter]

The President. I just said no.

Note: The President spoke at 11:03 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.