July 2, 1984
Legal Drinking Age
The President. Hello.
Scott Peelin [of WFTV - TV]. Mr. President, you changed your mind on raising the drinking age. Originally you had stood by the premise it was a State decision. Isn't this just another example of more interference by the Federal Government?
The President. Well, now, I'm having a little difficulty with this speaker here. I didn't catch the first part of your question.
Mr. Peelin. Well, from what we understand, sir, according to Transportation Secretary Dole, you changed your mind on raising the Federal drinking age. You originally had stood by the premise that it was a State decision. Isn't this just another example of the Federal Government getting involved in something that you had always said in the past was States rights?
The President. No, I don't think so. It's true that I am a strong advocate of States rights, and I don't like seeing the Federal Government cross the line and intervene, although it has done so once in this particular area with the 55-mile speed limit. That was born of an emergency situation. It is true, also, that I would have preferred if all the States had come together on the drinking age being raised to 21, and without Federal interference.
But when I saw the figures -- there are 23 States that have now adopted the 21 age limit. The others are a little behind or, in some instances, have refused to go along with this. But when I saw the figures, I realized that the cause was worth this risk of the Federal Government intervening. In Michigan, 43 percent was the drop in nighttime fatalities after this was passed; in Illinois it was 23 percent. In the first year after New Jersey adopted this, the fatalities among young people dropped by 39 percent in the first year. So, I think it is worth it.
But also there is some element here that could open the door to the Federal Government being involved, and that is the fact of the interstate situation, that States with the advanced drinking age now find that in adjoining States where they still have the age much younger, they cross the line and -- into the -- or the other States, and then are faced with driving back with the result that we have seen.
I had that reversed. I should say the people -- or the youngsters in the States where they have the 21 law cross the line into those that don't have it. And these percentage figures -- and we're talking human lives of young people -- I think warrant the action that we're suggesting. I would prefer that the other 27 States would do what the first 23 have done.
Mr. Peelin. Sir, Jesse Jackson is now saying he would like to go to Russia to try and get dissident Andrei Sakharov freed as similar as to what he did recently in Cuba. You apparently don't think he should be traveling around the world exercising foreign policy. At least that's the impression the media is getting, because you have refused to meet with Mr. Jackson, and Mr. Shultz has refused to meet with Mr. Jackson. Do you think that Reverend Jackson should stop making these trips around the world, exercising U.S. policy?
The President. Well I have to say this: I'm delighted that the humanitarian gesture, for whatever reason -- and I suspect very much the political reasons not on his side, but on the part of Castro in this most recent episode, had something other than humanitarianism behind it. But it isn't a case of what I think. It is a case that there is a law, the Logan Act, with regard to unauthorized personnel, civilians, simply going to -- or citizens -- to other countries and, in effect, negotiating with foreign governments. Now, that is the law of the land.
Mr. Peelin. Do you plan to take legal action against him, sir?
The President. No -- --
Mr. Peelin. Do you think our State Department should take action against Reverend Jackson?
The President. No, we're not going to take legal action. But I do feel that, while in this instance he was successful, there were things that make you pause and think. He went to Cuba with a list of some 25 Cuban political prisoners that he had been given of people that he felt warranted being freed. Only one of the prisoners that Castro released was on his original list. Now, I don't know why Castro chose to make others available and not this one, but I do believe that to intervene, for example, on this very delicate matter -- on Sakharov -- ignores things that might be going on in the quiet diplomatic channels that we have going forward.
Mr. Peelin. Sir, unfortunately we're out of time. Thank you so much for being with us today. We look forward to seeing you in the Daytona area on July 4th.
The President. I'm looking forward to it.
Legal Drinking Age
Mr. McDonough. Good afternoon, Mr. President. I'm Ed McDonough with WESH - TV in Orlando, Florida.
The President. Well, good to talk to you.
Mr. McDonough. My first question, Mr. President: You're expected to sign the bill that would order all States, including Florida, to raise their legal drinking ages to 21 within the next 2 years or lose their Federal highway funds. Our Governor Graham is in favor of the 21-year-old age limit, but he doesn't like the way the Federal Government went about imposing the limit on the States, calling it a violation of States rights. How do you respond to that, sir?
The President. Well, I can understand that, having been a Governor myself, and being a strong advocate of States rights and wanting to get more authority in the hands of the States. On the other hand, when the figures began to come in with regard to the 23 States that have already adopted the 21 age limit, those figures made it evident that so many lives were being saved because of this age limit. And with 27 of the States either refusing or just dragging their feet on doing something about it, I felt that we were justified in this.
We're talking about human lives, young lives. In Michigan, after adopting their 21 age drinking limit, the nighttime fatalities, particularly those related with alcohol, dropped by 43 percent. And in Illinois it was 23 percent; in New Jersey in the first year after they adopted such a law, the drop in alcohol-related accidents was 39 percent. Now, I think this many human lives indicate that the Federal Government was justified in taking this action.
In addition, there is some leeway here for believing that the Federal Government could get involved, in there is an interstate problem. A State can have a drinking age of 21; nearby State can have the younger age, and the youngsters that aren't 21, in that State, then are tempted to cross the State line to do what they want to do with regard to the drinking. And then they come back, driving again, and are now driving, having spent the day or the evening drinking. So, this does bring up a kind of an interstate -- I'd almost say commerce -- factor.
But I think the cause justifies this when you see the figures with regard to those States with the higher limit, and see the penalty that the others are paying for having a lower drinking age.
Mr. McDonough. Mr. President, the budget for the Nation's space program, including the Kennedy Space Center here in Florida, has remained more or less the same over the past few years. Do you support an increase in that budget in the future, including a portion of the budget which would affect the space station project?
The President. Well, the budget, when we came here, 1981, was $5\1/2\ billion. For 1985 we have asked, and Congress has approved, $7\1/2\ billion. That is a 36-percent increase in the budget. And for the 4 years we've been here, the budget has increased more than the inflation rate. So, we're not just covering inflation.
But I believe in the space program, and now, as you know, we're looking forward to, and have asked for, research and study into a space station. And, naturally, the budget will reflect whatever the increased needs are for these worthwhile undertakings.
Mr. McDonough. Mr. President, a final question. Some Florida farmers feel the new immigration law passed by Congress puts too much responsibility on them for enforcement of the law and not enough on the Federal Government. In the words of one Florida farmer, ``The Government hasn't been able to control the borders for the last 50 years; now it expects us to do it.'' How do you respond to that?
The President. Well, I know it's difficult, and I know that people are very concerned about this bill. On the other hand, our nation has lost control of its borders. Now, we're going to do everything else -- we've asked for a thousand more on the Southwest border, a thousand more INS people -- we want to resolve the problem of the illegal entrance.
At the same time we want some compassion for those people who have been living for a period of time in this country and have established families and roots here and have employment and all. But we have the problem of the undocumented worker coming into this country and then being victimized by some employers who know that he can't complain if he's paid less than the going wage or the minimum wage. We want to stop that.
So, the only way we can see is sanctions; but, at the same time, we want to make sure that there is a method whereby the individual can identify themselves as being a legitimate resident of this country. And all we ask is that the employer be subject to sanctions if they are trying to go around this bill and hire, knowingly, undocumented workers.
Mr. McDonough. Mr. President, thank you for being with us today. We look forward to your trip to Daytona Beach on Wednesday.
The President. Well, I'm looking forward to it.
Legal Drinking Age
Mr. Rinker. Hello, Mr. President. This is Glenn Rinker [of WCPX - TV] in Orlando.
The President. Well, hello there. Good to talk to you.
Mr. Rinker. Thank you, sir. Mr. President, Florida's drinking age is now 19. Do you have a message for our State's young people who argue, if they're old enough to vote, old enough to die for their country, they're old enough to drink?
The President. Well, the trouble is, some of them are dying, but not for their country. They're dying simply because of drinking and driving. And we have the evidence now -- with 23 States that have adopted the 21 law, we have the evidence in the figures that show that that law saves lives.
In Michigan, after adopting it, the drop in this kind of fatalities was 43 percent. In Illinois it was 23 percent. In the first year after New Jersey adopted it, it was 39 percent. I think the numbers -- the hundreds and even thousands of young people whose lives can be saved warrant us moving to this law.
The other thing is, that we haven't thought about, that at the younger drinking age -- it is easier for people who have not yet reached that age to pass themselves off as being old enough to be sold liquor. When you raise the age somewhat it's a little more difficult for the 16- to the 17-year-old to pass themselves off as 21.
Offshore Oil Drilling
Mr. Rinker. Mr. President, how do you respond to critics who say that you're not concerned about the environment, particularly when it comes to offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean?
The President. Well, we are concerned about the environment. As a matter of fact, our regulations now to protect the environment are much greater than they have ever been before. The incident of oil spills is almost nonexistent; and we've had, for a whole generation, we've had offshore drilling.
But we also are requiring the, really, utmost in negotiations and discussions between the coastal States and the Federal Government. Now, most of the offshore drilling is under State jurisdiction. It is within the 3-mile limit, and these are State leases. We're talking about beyond the 3-mile limit, where there is probably the greatest available pool of oil, all around our shores, much more than what we have on land. And we think that necessity alone dictates that we explore this.
In many instances the Federal offshore wells will be far enough out that they won't even be visible from land. And, as I say, I think our regulations now are such that there is a safety factor that is actually greater than the safety factor of tankers that are bringing imported oil to us from across the oceans.
Mr. Rinker. Mr. President, with interest rates going up -- and growth here in central Florida has been phenomenal -- there's a lot of concern now by people who are being squeezed out by the variable rate home mortgages. What's your personal opinion about those mortgages, and should they have tighter controls than they do now?
The President. No, I would not like to see the Government moving into that field. But I have to tell you, we're distressed by the interest rates. Frankly, I see no justification for those rates remaining where they are.
Interest rates are determined by inflation. If you're going to lend money, you not only want a return in interest rate on your money, but you want to be sure that when the principal is paid back, it has the same purchasing power as it did before. And the only way to achieve that is by charging enough interest to offset inflation.
Now, we've reduced inflation so much that, as I say, there is no excuse for the interest rates staying where they are, and I believe the only reason for them staying there is pessimism. It's psychological. The people there in the money markets are not convinced yet that we have inflation under control.
Now, for the past month, or for this present -- well, no, it's now the past month, June -- the estimate a week or so ago was that inflation for that month was down to 2.6 percent. Now, that leaves a pretty high interest rate over and above that level. And we're just hoping that as we attack the deficit, as we continue to reduce the growth in government spending, that they will realize we do intend to keep inflation down.
Mr. Rinker. Are you going to exert any more personal pressure, sir, to bring down interest rates, say, against the Federal Reserve?
The President. Well, it isn't the Federal Reserve at this time. As a matter of fact, Paul Volcker uttered this same thing about this being psychology -- that I have just uttered. The Federal Reserve has been increasing the money supply at the upper limits of its growth rate, commensurate with the growth rate in productivity and in the economy. Now, that's all we ask for -- is that the money supply be increased so as to keep pace with the growth in the economy and not at a rate that would bring back inflation.
Mr. Rinker. Mr. President, thank you very much. We're looking forward to seeing you in Daytona on Wednesday.
The President. Well, I'm looking forward to it.
Note: The interviewers spoke by telephone with the President, who was in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House.
The interviews were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on July 4, the date of their broadcast in Orlando.