Radio Address to the Nation on Budget Reform

March 21, 1987

My fellow Americans:

This weekend marks the beginning of spring. Already, here at Camp David, the crocuses are pushing up out of the ground. From now on, the days will be longer than the nights, the air will be getting warmer, the grass greener, and soon the countryside will be in full bloom. There are all sorts of positive signs in our economy, too. Job creation hasn't slowed a bit. Last month alone we created 337,000 jobs. Employment has reached record highs. Poverty is declining. Tax rates are falling, and family income is rising.

Yes, indeed, spring is here, but there's one abiding problem that could plunge us right back into economic winter. That problem isn't in our economy. I'm afraid to say that problem is in the United States Congress, and it's called the budget process. The budget process is, indeed, a sorry spectacle: deadlines delayed or missed completely, huge continuing resolutions that camouflage the worst kind of special interest spending. Budget process? It's more like a magic show. It's wink and blink and smoke and mirrors and pulling rabbits out of hats, but almost all that ever comes up are designs to hide increases for the special interests.

Before I get into the need for budget reform, I want to speak to an issue that's frequently misunderstood. Now, we met our deadline and submitted to Congress a fiscal year 1988 budget that meets the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction goal without raising taxes. It's a sound budget, the result of hard work by our Cabinet and agency heads, and they're the people who run the programs.

A priority item in this year's budget is the continuation of our battle against drug abuse. We have tripled spending on drug programs since 1981. Well, last year we added $900 million for the purchase of helicopters, airplanes, and certain facilities. Now we're charged with cutting next year's budget by $900 million, proving that we aren't sincere about our crusade against drug abuse. Well, this was a one-time expenditure we don't have to repeat every year. As a matter of fact, we will still be spending some of that $900 million in the coming years, but it won't show in the '88 budget. In other words, the car is bought; now all we have to do is buy the gas and change the oil. The fact that the drug issue has been so misrepresented demonstrates how politically charged the whole budget issue is. And that all makes reform difficult, but not impossible.

There's a movement afoot in Congress, led by Senator Pete Domenici and other responsible legislators, to introduce some badly needed order into the budget process. One idea that deserves consideration is a 2-year budget cycle. A 2-year cycle for the defense budget has been initiated, and we'll be looking into the use for the total budget. Another real improvement would be individual appropriations bills that Congress delivers on time. Last year Congress missed all -- yes, all -- its deadlines and greeted me with what they call a continuing resolution at the end of the year. Now, that document was over 1,200 pages long and weighed 18\1/4\ pounds. Now, that's what you call heavy reading. It contained the appropriations for practically our entire government, and I either had to veto it and close down the government or approve the whole thing, pork and all. The third reform would give me greater power to veto waste through so-called enhanced rescission authority. Now, this is much like the line-item veto, except that my recommendations for spending cuts could be overturned by a simple majority vote in either House of Congress. In other words, no sneak-by, back-door spending. If Congress wants certain spending, they can have it; but they have to stand up, be counted, and vote for it.

Yet another step in the right direction is credit reform. Last week we sent up to the Congress our Federal Credit Reform Act of 1987. This bill would enable the public, the Congress, and the administration to evaluate accurately the costs and benefits of direct loans and loan guarantees -- costs that are now the subject of guess, speculation, and surmise.

We intend to work with those in Congress who are striving to put us back on the road to budget sanity. And just as we've done with credit reform, the administration will propose additional elements in what will be a comprehensive budget-process reform package. These reforms are important to you because they're a key to continued economic growth and job creation. It's time to put politics aside and do what the Congress knows has to be done sooner or later anyway: give the American people a budget process that controls spending, a budget process we can be proud of.

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

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