Radio Address to the Nation on Defense Spending

May 9, 1987

My fellow Americans:

My message today is taped so I can attend the memorial service for a great patriot and dedicated public servant, my good friend, Bill Casey. Before I get into the substance of my remarks, I would also like to wish all of our nation's mothers a happy Mother's Day tomorrow. I've often thought that our mothers are the most hardworking of all Americans. Raising a family, as we all know, is a 24-hour-a-day duty. How often it was our mothers who picked us up when we fell, comforted us when we were sick, schooled us in our faith, and gave us the security and courage to go out and face the world. So let me just say to all America's mothers: Thanks, Mom, for a job well done.

Turning to business in Washington, the Congress is in the midst of working on the defense budget, and I must say quite frankly that the indications up to this point are alarming. Too often many Members of Congress treat defense like it was someone else's responsibility. It's always the first thing to be sacrificed, to be canceled or cut, or delayed, even while wasteful boondoggles and pork-barrel spending sail right through untouched.

Now the progress we've made in the last 6 years rebuilding our defenses is once again being put in jeopardy by the shortsightedness of some in Congress. For 2 years in a row, Congress has cut defense appropriations below previous levels in real terms. The current 1987 defense budget is actually 6 percent smaller than the one Congress itself approved for 1985, yet some actually argue that it, too, should be gutted. Add to this the fact that some have attached irresponsible amendments to defense bills that would tie my hands and undercut my ability to conduct arms reduction negotiations with the Soviets. I think you'll agree it's time Congress took stock of itself and thought seriously about its responsibility for maintaining our national security.

When we were elected in 1980, our defenses were in a dangerous state of disrepair. Years of neglect had produced planes that couldn't fly for want of spare parts, ships that couldn't leave port, a Rapid Deployment Force that was neither rapid nor very deployable and wasn't much of a force. At the same time we were confronted with a massive Soviet buildup. While our defenses were cut to the bone, the Soviets steadily increased military spending, shifting the military balance heavily in their favor. Even today the annual Soviet output of nuclear missiles, tanks, and other ground equipment is still twice that of the United States and NATO combined. Such a severe and dangerous imbalance can't be redressed in a few years. It takes a steady, determined effort.

Now, some will tell you that we're spending too much on defense, that defense spending is responsible for the deficit, but that charge is belied by the facts. The great surge in spending has been on the nondefense side of the budget. In fact, the increase in nondefense spending, including interest, has been nearly twice as great as in defense spending. My budget proposal for the next 5 years asks for a modest 3-percent real growth in defense. This is the minimum we need for a stable, consistent growth in defense that will maintain the progress we've made.

Also of grave concern are the many amendments that threaten our arms reduction negotiations with the Soviets. Our talks have already progressed to the point that, in the last round, the United States tabled a draft treaty on intermediate nuclear force reductions, and just yesterday in Geneva, we tabled a draft strategic arms reduction treaty as well. For the first time in history, we seem to be on the verge of major arms reductions. Still, some in Congress would pull the rug out from under our negotiators with some legislation, such as that dealing with our strategic defense program and nuclear testing. Congress would be handing the Soviets free of charge what they can't win at the bargaining table. This is no way to run America's foreign policy. Let me be clear: If Congress passes legislation that endangers our arms reductions or undermines our national defense, I will have no choice; I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, however, I hope we can reestablish a bipartisan consensus on national security and meet our defense needs so we can keep America free and strong and at peace.

Finally, I'd just like to say a few words about the hearings that started in Congress this week. We're all eager to get the facts out before the American people. We hope Congress will be thorough and also expeditious so that we can get on with the business at hand.

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

Note: The President's address was recorded on May 8 in the Oval Office at the White House for broadcast at 12:06 p.m. on May 9. In his closing remarks, the President referred to the Iran arms and ``contra'' aid congressional hearings.