Radio Address to the Nation on Memorial Day and the Budget Deficit

May 23, 1987

Nancy and I had a sad duty yesterday but one that also had its proud moments. We traveled to Mayport, Florida, to pay tribute to the young men of the U.S.S. Stark, 37 of whom were killed last Sunday after an attack on their ship in the Persian Gulf. Yesterday we saw the bravery of the families of these young men. Despite their terrible loss, their courage was a tribute to the valor of their fallen sons and husbands. But, as Lincoln noted long ago, at such moments there really are no words -- the deeds of our heroes are their own best testimony to their love for our nation, and for our people.

We can take some comfort, though, in knowing that the Stark's mission was a vital one for us as a free people. Since 1949 American ships have patrolled in the Gulf, an area that is a vital strategic and economic crossroad for the nations of three continents, an area that in the hands of a hostile power would be a chokepoint of freedom. And that's why we owe the crew of the U.S.S. Stark and their brave families such a deep debt of gratitude. It's a debt that should be on all of our minds this Memorial Day weekend as we recall those who have fallen in our nation's service.

In addition to remembering these young men and all the others whose struggle and sacrifice protected this nation, we celebrate this weekend another moment when brave men and women worked to make our country, one nation indivisible. Exactly 200 years ago delegates from 7 of the Original 13 Colonies met in Philadelphia to begin work on forming a new government. It marked the beginning of that famous miracle at Philadelphia, a miracle that brought forth perhaps the most enduring document or instrument, I should say, of human government ever known: our Constitution. Over the years, historical and legal scholars have continued to marvel at its wisdom and prudence. In some mysterious way it seemed to provide for every contingency; it set up a structure of government strong enough to maintain national unity but flexible enough to change with the times.

One part of our Founding Fathers genius was their provision for amending the Constitution. They knew they had created a good document but not a perfect one. In fact, even two centuries ago, some of them, especially Thomas Jefferson, were troubled by one omission: the lack of a limitation on public borrowing by the Federal Government. They knew from firsthand experience how tyranny abused the fiscal powers of government, how excessive borrowing and heavy taxation led to inflated currencies and economic hardship. Well, even in their reservations about the Constitution the Founding Fathers were perceptive and wise.

I think most of you know how badly out of control Federal spending has gotten in recent years; today the national debt is $2.25 trillion. In 1985 the Congress tried to do something about its excessive spending by passing a bill called Gramm-Rudman-Hollings that put deficit spending on a steady decline until we reached a balanced budget in the early 1990's. But lately, Congress has been returning to its old ways and forgetting the solemn promises it made under this law. That's why I'm one of those Americans who has always believed a constitutional amendment mandating that Congress balance the budget is the answer to what ails us. And we've tried to get such an amendment through the Congress so that the State legislatures could vote on it.

This reluctance by the Congress has inspired a number of Americans to try another method provided for in the Constitution: a constitutional convention, one with delegates from each State who could propose a balanced budget amendment and then send it on to the State legislatures for approval. Only two more States are needed to call such a convention. And believe me, if the Congress continues to balk at passing the balanced budget amendment, I think the drive for a constitutional convention will pick up steam. So, this Memorial Day, as we think of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, we should not forget to also reflect on our own duties, to the way of life, and the system of government for which they died. Certainly, wasting our national wealth and burdening future generations with mountains of debt does not keep faith with those who have struggled and sacrificed to begin a new form of government here on our shores.

And I hope you'll do something else, as well. Keep especially in mind the brave sailors of the U.S.S. Stark. Do me a favor, won't you: Whisper a prayer for them and for their families, that God may bless them and their nation which they so nobly served and for which they so nobly died.

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

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