Radio Address to the Nation on Deficit Reduction

March 28, 1987

I went up to Capitol Hill this week where many Congressmen were wearing a button with the number ``108 in '88'' on it. And therein lies a story, and today I'd like to tell you about it. The group was the House Republican Conference, and the number stood for the 1988 fiscal year's deficit target: $108 billion. Now, before you anticipate lots of Washington talk about budgets and deficits, don't -- as we used to say in the old days of radio -- touch that dial. Believe me, this issue concerns your job and America's prosperity; it's about keeping inflation low and making sure government doesn't take any more of your take-home pay.

You see, in 1985 the Congress made a solemn pledge to you, the American people, when it decided on $108 billion. After years of wild spending and the accumulation of a trillion-dollar debt, Congress finally agreed to a long-term plan to shrink the Federal budget and, over the course of 5 years, to actually stop deficit spending. Yes, that's right! Under this legislation, called Gramm-Rudman-Hollings for the three Senators who proposed it, the Federal Government has actually adopted a feasible plan for not spending more than it takes in -- for balancing the Federal budget. You could feel the planet shaking!

But this, of course, came only after a long, hard struggle. When we came to Washington in 1981, the momentum of the Federal spending juggernaut seemed unstoppable; and year after year Congress, through the higher inflation caused by Federal borrowing or through higher taxes, saddled the American people with the bill. But over the last 6 years, we changed the terms of the entire debate. For the first time, even the big spenders in the Congress were talking about the deficit like the problem that it is. What a breakthrough that was to those of us who remember Congressmen and economists who actually thought we could spend ourselves rich -- that's just like the fellow who thought he could drink himself sober. So, when Gramm-Rudman-Hollings was adopted, it broke decades of bad tradition, and many were hopeful Congress would keep its promise and hold to the deficit targets.

But you know Congress and spending. Only this week the Congress sent me a highway construction bill that was loaded with pork-barrel projects. I haven't seen so much lard since I handed out blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair. It was $10 billion overboard. I got out my veto pen and used it fast. I told the Congress to pare away the waste, to clean this bill up, get it back down to me within the week, and I will sign it within the hour; because America does need a highway bill in time for spring construction and one that restores authority for the 65-miles-per-hour speed limit. But not this one, not a budget-busting handout to the special interests that ultimately you, the American worker, will have to pay for.

And that's just the point: Gramm-Rudman-Hollings was not just a pledge for fiscal responsibility but a pledge to keep America's economy growing and creating new jobs. We need to remember that one of the reasons the economy is prospering and the financial markets are responding is the message the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings plan sends to potential investors and entrepreneurs, a message that says it's safe and smart to invest in our economy, to create new jobs, because government is going to hold down spending and prevent inflation and tax increases from returning. So, you do have a tremendous personal stake in this budget battle and Congress' pledge to hold down the deficit. I've said so often that the reason things changed in America is because those of you at home made those in Congress who didn't see the light on economic issues at least feel the heat. Well, I'm going to be needing your help again.

It would be a shame to lose our momentum now; on inflation and taxes and economic growth, we've accomplished so much. In fact, in the future I'll be talking about another development in saving tax dollars and making the Government more efficient. Budget Director Jim Miller and his deputy Joe Wright have been briefing me on the results of our governmentwide management project, a project that's saved our citizens over 600 million man-hours in filling out forms and redirected $84 billion in Federal money away from wasteful overhead into useful service and purchases. We've eliminated 30,000 pages of Federal regulations. But progress on this front or any other is gravely jeopardized. I need your help now to tell Congress to honor their pledge to the American people and get the highway construction bill under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings limits. We must never return to the bad old days of higher spending and runaway inflation. So, let's keep the number on the button; remember ``108.''

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

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House.