Remarks to Business Leaders During a White House Briefing on Budget Reform

March 13, 1987

I feel a little bit like the old vaudevillian, the ventriloquist, that said to the audience as an encore, ``I'll sing `Yankee Doodle Dandy' while drinking a glass of water at the same time.'' [Laughter] Well, welcome to the Old Executive Office Building. It's wonderful to see so many friends and supporters. For the last 6 years we've fought the good fight to get government spending under control, and it hasn't been easy. We haven't been able to let down our guard for one moment. But despite the momentum built up by the 50-year-old spending juggernaut, we've made dramatic headway. Sometimes we forget that deficit spending in this country -- with only 1 or 2 rare, exceptional years -- has been going on for more than 50 years. And for most of that time, it was explained as necessary to maintain prosperity. Well, for the first time in more than a decade, the Federal Government is actually spending less this fiscal year, in real terms, than the year before; and that's no small accomplishment. [Applause] Now, I should be applauding you, because you -- all of you -- and the American people, I think, deserve full credit.

As we've begun to rein in Federal spending, we've been able to bring taxes down and subdue the monster of inflation. And the result: what our European allies have called the American miracle, the creation of over 13 million new jobs in an economic expansion that may well become the longest in peacetime history. And the engine of job creation is keeping up its pace. It created 337,000 new jobs last month alone. I've had to learn, I didn't know just how the statisticians worked this out, but do you all understand what is considered the full potential employment pool in America? It is everyone -- male and female -- from age 16 up. Well, right now 61.3 percent of that pool, the highest percentage in our history, is employed. I think that's more meaningful than the unemployment rate that we keep flirting with. But family income is rising. Employment is holding, as I've pointed out, at historic highs. And America's poor are climbing out of poverty.

You know, I told my senior staff in this room the other day that one definition of an economist is someone who sees something happen in practice and wonders if it'd work in theory. [Laughter] You know, anymore, I'm kind of limited as to ethnic stories that I can tell. That's one I can tell; my degree was in economics. [Laughter]

Well, there's no question about it: Our combined program of tax cuts, deregulation, and spending cuts is working miracles. We've created a revolution of hope and opportunity. But all these achievements and all this progress is imperiled at this very moment -- imperiled by a Congress that won't give up its big spending ways. One of the first actions of the 100th Congress was an $18 billion boondoggle so loaded with unnecessary and politically motivated spending that I was forced to veto it. But now, even before Congress has drawn up their budget, some there are saying that they want to back away from our commitment to Gramm-Rudman-Hollings. Some are even saying that they want to raise taxes again on the American people.

Well, I'm sorry, but that's just not going to happen. The American people worked long and hard to cut tax rates and win tax reform. They put their trust in their elected representatives, and they were promised by those representatives that they would be given the long-overdue tax relief they so truly deserve. Well, we're not going to break faith with the American people. I promise you: Tax reform will go ahead as scheduled.

You know, all this talk about raising taxes reminds me of a story I heard once down in Louisiana about a farmer who took his son out for the first time duck hunting with him. And they sat there in the blind, and a mallard came down, landed right in front of them. The father wasn't too much of a sportsman. He raised up his gun and took a shot at it, and when the smoke cleared, the duck was still sitting there peaceful as could be. Well, he took a second shot, and this time the duck was still there. And tried a third time, and this time the mallard took off and flew away. A little embarrassed in front of his son, the father turned to his son and said, ``Son, you have just witnessed a miracle. You've just seen a dead duck fly.'' [Laughter] Well, all these tax hike schemes have about as much chance of flying as a dead duck. My pledge to veto any tax rate increase remains rock-solid. There will be no tax rate increase in the 100th Congress. It's time Congress cut the Federal budget and left the family budget alone.

Of course, you know, we wouldn't have to fight this battle all year, every year, if the congressional budget process weren't so desperately in need of reform. As I've said before, the budget process here at the Federal level is unworkable, an embarrassment to the American way of governing. Every year we see the effects of this breakdown: budget deadlines delayed or missed completely, monstrous year-end budget busters, and so-called continuing resolutions with billions and billions of dollars for boondoggles and special interest programs. They're protected, built into that, because the whole government would be stopped if you attempted to veto anything of that kind. You know, when it comes to this yearly budget process, I keep thinking of that current movie hit, ``The Little Shop of Horrors.'' [Laughter] Now, the budget isn't exactly like the man-eating plant in that movie. It isn't mean, and it isn't green. It doesn't come from outer space. But it does only say one thing: ``Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!'' [Laughter]

And this yearly budget-feeding process must stop. After a long, hard struggle, the American people won a major victory with tax reform. We finally got the special interests out of the tax code, and now it's time to get them out of the budget. And that's why we must not delay. We must act now to pass a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. Most of our States have such a provision in their State constitutions.

And I can tell you, after 8 years as Governor, that most of our States have a budgeting process that is sensible and practical and works; and it makes the Federal Government look like the Mickey Mouse arrangement that it is. And let us act to -- in addition to that constitutional amendment -- swiftly to reform the budget process with the same tool that 43 Governors use to cut waste out of State budgets. Give the President the line-item veto. I haven't had that kind of fun that I would have since I was Governor; because there, in 8 years, I line-itemed 943 times without being overridden.

Well, in the meantime, our elected representatives cannot break their promise to the American people. There can be no backing away from our commitment to the deficit reduction goals of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings. Otherwise, our economic prosperity will never be safe. The pressures for more and more Federal spending will grow until they burst through all remaining constraints. We'll be back where we were 7 years ago with Federal spending running wildly out of control. You remember when, in the '76 election, our opponents coined a thing called the misery index. You added inflation to the unemployment rate. They weren't talking about that along about 1980, because it had grown to more than 20 in total. And now it's down to around a third of that or less. So, we've taken over on the misery index and think it's the proper thing to use. But inflation is going to come back in force, and our economic expansion and the millions of jobs we created -- well, they'll only be a memory.

I've submitted a budget that meets the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit limit for fiscal year 1988. It's a good budget, a sound budget -- the result of hard work by our Cabinet and our agency heads, the ones who have to run the programs. They say that they can run them for the money that we're asking. And up in the Congress, there are people who don't have to run the programs who say it can't be done. It'll keep us on track -- this budget -- toward eliminating deficit spending. It'll help build the foundation for a continued economic expansion with low inflation, high job creation, and a reduced trade deficit. I don't believe them when they say it can't be done. Congress can keep its Gramm-Rudman-Hollings commitment if it wants to; it only has to want to.

I'm going to keep pushing, and my Cabinet is going to be out front pushing, too. We've all got to speak out loud and clear and let Congress know there can be no backsliding on this issue. It's time to rise above politics and self-interest. It's time once and for all to end deficit spending, to put America on a growth path, creating jobs and opportunity for all Americans through the end of the century and beyond. And believe me, you are the kind of dynamo that can bring this about. Maybe I've said it to you before; I'll say it again: You don't have to make them see the light. Just make them feel the heat!

Thank you very much. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:16 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.