Remarks at a White House Briefing for Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council

May 1, 1987

Let me say a special thanks to your executive director, Connie Heckman, and to your chairman, Representative Roy Cagle. This is the seventh time that I've met with you since coming to Washington in 1981. It's always a pleasure meeting with ALEC members. ALEC members and I've been soldiers fighting a common battle for -- well, ever since my days as Governor of California.

I should confess one little secret of mine. Ever since coming to Washington, I've had mixed feelings about these annual ALEC get-togethers. Each year I look out at all of you outstanding legislators, and I can't help thinking: Why can't the Congress look like this? [Laughter] But even so, you ALEC members have been allies these last 6 years. You helped us as we fought to bring down tax rates twice, to cut needless regulations, and to get control of government spending.

When others were saying that our tax cuts meant more inflation and less growth, you helped us counter with the truth: that the American people know better than the Federal Government how to spend their own money. When the big spenders were saying that government costs couldn't be controlled, all across the Nation, you showed that they could, by controlling State government costs. By your example and voice, you've helped change America's course and start the great American journey of hope, climbing once again up the mountains and to the stars.

Yet in the last 6 years, inflation and interest rates fell from record highs -- interest to the lowest rate in a decade and inflation to the lowest in a quarter of a century. And in the past decade, America has created more jobs than Japan and Europe combined. The American spirit of enterprise has soared as new businesses have created new jobs by the millions. And most important of all, the American family has been taken off of the endangered species list. [Laughter] We've reversed the decade-long falling roller coaster made of real family income. Since our recovery began, families have more each and every year, as have individuals. And as one authority on demographics has said, ``What this means is that the middle class is strong and should remain healthy.''

Of course, our critics won't hear any of this. They've talked about a declining middle class and about what they call reindust -- or deindustrialization. That means that American manufacturing is in decline, too. Well, our critics have spent 6 years getting things wrong. During our recovery, American manufacturing productivity has shot ahead at the fastest pace in 20 years and, overall, our manufacturing productivity is way above that of our next closest international competitor. Not only that, but in the last 4 years, American manufacturing output has soared almost 30 percent, and we've added more jobs in manufacturing than either Europe or Japan.

Our critics have spent a lot of time trying to find a cloud to go with the silver lining. [Laughter] The silver lining has been one of the longest peacetime expansions in the past 40 years. But in the process, they've been getting things so mixed up that they remind me of that teacher who asked her students which is more important, the Sun or the Moon? And one little boy raised his hand and said, ``The Moon, because the Sun's around during the day when you don't need it. [Laughter] And if it wasn't for the Moon, it'd be totally dark at night.'' [Laughter]

Well, I said that you've been an ally in all the battles of the last 6 years. But today, in area after area, you're more than an ally, you're a leader. Congress talks about international competitiveness. But when it comes to doing something about one of the biggest drags on our competitiveness, a tort system that's going up in flames, Congress has fiddled away. You're the ones who brought in the firetrucks. Just last year, at least 37 States enacted reforms in their liability laws. We can debate the details, but isn't it time for Congress to follow your lead and declare that lawyers should do as doctors swear to do in the Hippocratic Oath? They should ``abstain from every voluntary act of mischief.''

You've been in the lead in helping the poor as well. Enterprise zones are one example. Again, while Congress fiddled, you went to work. In the last 6 years, despite congressional inaction, 31 State legislatures passed enterprise zone programs into law. From New Jersey to California, 25 States have actually designated the zones. Today, in hundreds of communities, enterprise zones are bringing investment, hope, and jobs for the poor by the thousands.

Now, we've sent our welfare reform package up to the Hill. As with enterprise zones, our guiding principle is to lessen dependency and increase opportunity. And this time, from the very start, you're out in front. Knowing what you don't know is the beginning of wisdom. The Federal Government does not know how to get people off of welfare and into productive lives. We had a war on poverty -- poverty won. [Laughter] But when we went around the Nation looking, we found States and communities that do know how. So, we don't plan to serve up another program from Washington. We want to give States and communities the room to experiment, room to find out more about what works. Our welfare reform proposal asks a simple question: In looking for a solution to the poverty problem, isn't it time Washington got a dose of humility and turned to you for help?

You've been leading in education reform, as well. You've been ahead of the Federal Government in recognizing that the SAT scores didn't go down in the sixties and seventies because we failed to spend on education. Year after year, we spent more than ever before. Quality slipped because we got away from teaching mastery of the basics of readin', writin', and 'rithmetic. We got away from teaching the basics of our national heritage. And we got away from teaching simple standards of right and wrong. It's time to take standards seriously again. Young people expect adults to correct them and tell them what is right and what is wrong.

And there's one other area where it's time for Washington to follow your lead: getting control of government spending. You've made the hard decisions in the States. It's time to do the same thing here in Washington. The answer to the deficit isn't more taxes. Congress should cut the Federal budget and leave the family budget alone. Ever since the middle of the seventies, when Congress shoved the President out of the way and took over the budget process almost entirely, deficits have been soaring. In the last few weeks, we've seen how Congress works. They've begun to talk about abandoning Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction targets and about raising taxes. And at the same time, they've passed two outrageous spending bills over my veto. One bill included funding for a mass transit project that, in the end, will cost $6 a passenger-ride to build. It would be cheaper to put them all in taxicabs. [Laughter]

But that's not enough for Congress. There's a supplemental appropriation coming down the pike that has five more highway projects worse than those that made me use my veto pen before. The others were only partially Federally-funded; these are entirely Federally-funded. Isn't it time to give the President what 43 Governors have: the power to cut wasteful projects item by item, a line-item veto?

And we also need a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Here again, you can be in the lead. Time and again, Congress has failed to pass a balanced budget amendment. When it comes to spending, three words they never want to hear are, ``Just say no.'' [Laughter] Well, State legislatures have it in their power to make Congress say no to deficit spending. Thirty-two States of the 34 necessary have called for a constitutional convention to enact a balanced budget amendment. Doesn't it make sense for State legislatures to give Congress a clear choice: Pass a balanced budget amendment on their own or have a constitutional convention pass one for them? That would be among the most eloquent statements of the principle of federalism in the last 200 years, and it's about time.

The constitutional foundations for federalism have been seriously eroded in recent decades. The fault is on both sides of the Federal-State line. Time and again, the National Government has intruded into the domain of the States. Too many State leaders have traded sovereignty for a few pieces of Federal silver. Our welfare reform proposal is one of the practical steps that we're taking to restore that balance. I know you agree; there's no more important battle to finish than that of restoring government to the people. And that's what federalism is all about.

In the last 6 years, working together both here in Washington and in the State capitals, we conservatives have changed America's course. We've opened up doors of opportunity and hope for all the American people. We've restored America's strength. But the job isn't done -- far from it. In the months ahead, we'll need your support on welfare reform, on restoring values to education, and on stopping legislation that would stop our expansion. I mean big spending and protectionist legislation. So, let's roll up our sleeves and get on with it.

And thank you all, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:17 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.