October 15, 1985
Thank you, Steve, and thank you, Senator McClure and Lieutenant Governor Leroy, Congressman Craig, and all of you, the distinguished people up here. And, especially, I want to mention these two grandstands filled with these wonderful young people up here. This is what these contests are all about. And a special congratulations to Veronica Barnes for her award-winning essay on why she's proud to be an American.
Well, it's a pleasure for me to be here in support of a champion of liberty, a tough advocate for the interests of Idaho and for all of America -- Senator Steve Symms. Somebody asked me earlier today how it feels to be leaving Washington for a visit to Idaho. Well, I said, it's a little like coming home to old friends after a trip through the Twilight Zone. [Laughter] And it really does feel like being home with friends. Steve mentioned this already, but I haven't forgotten the 66-percent and the 72-percent majorities the Gem State gave me in 1980 and 1984. And all I can say is: Thank you, Idaho! You not only helped me get my present job, you also sent to Washington one of this country's finest and most responsible Senators, Steve Symms. And along with Senator Jim McClure and Congressman Larry Craig, they're all doing a terrific job. I need them. Can I count on you to keep them there? [Applause] All right.
A little over 4\1/2\ years ago, we set out to revitalize our country and to turn around some ominous trends. Inflation was raging, our economy was declining, and our military strength was getting weaker by the day. With the help of hard-working, concerned citizens like yourselves, we've put America back on track. Now, some of the experts said that it would take 10 years to wring inflation out of our economy. Well, you know what an expert is? That's someone who can tell you every reason why something can't be done. We didn't listen to the naysayers and neither did Steve Symms. And now, instead of the 12-percent inflation rate we inherited last -- well, last month, and as it's been for most of the last 3 years, inflation was under 4 percent, and for the last 4 months, it has been 2\1/2\ percent. Now, that's good for you, it's good for Idaho, and it's good for America.
The drop in the inflation rate is only part of the picture. The prime interest rate was 21\1/2\ percent before we got to Washington; today it's under 10. Productivity has jumped, real take-home pay has increased, and that's real, not just pay that was raised to keep pace with inflation. And we've had 34 straight months of economic growth. Unemployment is down to 7.1 percent, and this year we have had a higher percentage of our working-age population employed than at any time in our nation's recorded history. Last month 378,000 more people found jobs in America. Now, this couldn't have been accomplished without effective Senators like the two that are here, like Jim McClure and like Steve Symms.
The progress that we've enjoyed has not been, as our liberal opposition would like the public to believe, as a result of luck or personality or the celestial effects of Halley's Comet. America is back because we discarded wrongheaded solutions that relied on big government, high taxes, and more Federal regulation. Instead, we put power back in the names [hands] of the people. Your success proves the best thing that anyone can do for the American people is to get the Government off your backs and out of your way. Our program, aimed at private sector growth rather than more government and higher taxes, stood in stark contrast to failed liberal policies of the past two decades. It was about as popular with the Washington establishment, that program of ours, as a skunk at a lawn party. [Laughter] So, it hasn't been easy. I've had to rely heavily on individuals with courage, energy, and principle. And you know now I'm talking about Steve Symms. Steve has been a linchpin, a driving force behind our efforts to keep our country free, prosperous, and at peace.
And today we're on the verge of a landmark victory for America's economic future. Last week, as Steve told you, the Republican Senate, with the support of a majority of Democrat Senators, adopted the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction plan. This farsighted legislation puts in place a fair, enforceable method of reducing the budget deficit by equal amounts each year, mandating a balanced budget by 1990. And then, I hope we'll be able to get a constitutional amendment to ensure that from then on the Federal Government doesn't spend any more than it takes in. Maybe over the weekend, on some of the talk shows, you have seen some people -- without mentioning them -- snidely calling this some kind of a gimmick, this Gramm-Rudman-Hollings plan, and some kind of a trick to cover up the fact of the deficits.
Well, it's no such thing. Let me just take a second and tell you briefly what it is. From the moment we got there, we've been trying to reduce the deficits and eliminate them and get them down to the balanced budget. If we had gotten all the spending cuts that we asked for in 1981, the deficit would be $50 billion less than it is right now. And so, each succeeding year, you got back to the same old fight, asking some of those in Congress who have favorite programs that are supported by special interest groups, trying to get further reductions in the spending of government. Well, finally, the idea came, let's have a program -- we're on a path, right now, started on a path of decline in the deficits in proportion to the gross national product. So, we said, why don't we have a 5-year plan in which we keep this downward path of deficits to the point that it arrives at the balanced point? And then, instead of battling that same old battle every year, anyone who tries to bust the budget with a spending program will be violating an adopted 5-year program. And that's what that amendment does.
And, of course, it's now over in the House. Friday, the House of Representatives took a step in the right direction, but we still have a large hurdle to get over. In a few days, the House-Senate conferees will meet to iron out their differences. And they need to know, back in Washington, how you feel about it and what you want. So, don't hesitate to take pen in hand or a telegram or a wire. The American people will not tolerate, I don't believe, any attempt to scuttle this last, best hope to come to grips with the budget deficit. The days of the big spender are over. The House-Senate conference committee should realize the American people are watching.
Steve Symms has fought long and hard against the profligate spending that Gramm-Rudman-Hollings will finally put behind us. One indication of the respect his colleagues have for Steve is his membership on the critical Senate Finance Committee. It is a tribute for a freshman Senator to get a coveted seat on that committee. And it, along with his Budget and Environment and Public Works Committee assignments, allows him effectively to represent the needs and views of Idaho in our Nation's Capital. For instance, as chairman of the Senate Transportation Subcommittee, he has worked hard and successfully to keep up this State's and the Nation's infrastructure, making certain that your roads and bridges are in tiptop shape. Effective as he has been for your State, Steve has never lost sight of the fact that what's best for Idaho is what's best for America.
We've come a long way, but there's still much more to do. I know that here in Idaho some of your key industries are still struggling. Quick fixes aren't the answer. We've had a half a century of that. We're opposed to any policy that raises trade barriers against our products. With our farmers under stress as they are now, we must not hurt them further with a trade policy that cuts them off from the foreign markets that are the key to a recovery for our agricultural economy. Now is not the time to be closing markets and retreating; now is the time to let the world know we mean business. The era of the all-providing, never-complaining America is over. Fair trade means fair trade for us, too. I don't care if we're talking about microchips, potatoes, chemicals, or any other product. It has to be free, fair, and open trade for all.
Restoring America's economic vitality was priority number one for this administration. To do that we had to come to grips with economy-destroying levels of taxation. We cut the Federal income tax rates 25 percent across the board, offsetting tax increases that were built into the system. And then, we indexed taxes so they wouldn't increase because of inflation.
Some idea of what had happened to you in the years just a few years before -- let me give you just one little set of figures here. Indexing, and what does it mean? Maybe some of our young people who haven't paid an income tax yet don't know that as inflation was raging back over the last decade and a half or so, and we were getting pay raises to try and keep pace with inflation -- not to increase our income, but just to stay even -- well, you're taxed on the number of dollars you earn, not on their value. So, you get a cost-of-living increase and you're pushed up into another one of those 14 tax brackets. And you pay a higher rate of tax, but you hadn't improved yourself at all, and you're worse off than you were back there before you got the cost-of-living pay raise.
Well, this is what is cured with indexing; now it can't happen. Now, it'll be really done away with when we get tax reform. But right now with the present tax system, that is indexed so that, as you get cost-of-living pay raises, you don't go up into another tax bracket. You stay in the same bracket you were until you actually get a real raise. But the figures I was going to mention -- in 1977 the average weekly wage in America was $189. By 1985 that had gone to $299. That sounds like a pretty hefty raise, doesn't it? But if you count that 299 in 1977 dollars, without the intervening inflation, the 299 was only equal to $171 in the 1977 purchasing power. And yet think how many tax brackets that 189 to 299 had taken you up, so that the Government could profit by your bad fortune. Well, thanks to the hard work of Steve and Jim and Larry and others, we also dramatically brought down the inheritance tax so families, especially family farmers and small businessmen, won't lose through taxation what they spent a lifetime building.
Now it's time for step two. Our taxes are still too high. The system is unfair, as I've just pointed out, and too complicated. We propose to overhaul the system from top to bottom, bringing down the tax rates, simplifying the process, and making it more fair. Now, some of the Washington cynics who are opposing this say that you don't really care. I say it's time for a change. Can we count on your help to get the job done? [Applause] Thank you, you just made my day. I've always had the sneaking suspicion that not only can Americans run their own affairs better than government can, they can probably run the Government better than the bureaucrats and politicians.
You know, I've read a lot of the constitutions of other countries, including the Soviet Constitution. And I was amazed to find that it has a lot of things in there that it promises, that our own Constitution promises. Of course, they don't keep those promises over there, but they're in there. But then, I was trying to figure out, what is the great difference between our two constitutions? And for these young people, if they've ever wondered, I want them to listen clearly. All those other constitutions I read said, we, the government allow you, the people, the following rights and privileges. Our Constitution says, we, the people, will allow the Government to do the following things, and nothing more than we have allowed them.
Now, some of the important issues that we face as a people concern our own national security. During the last decade we permitted our military strength to erode. The Soviets, at the same time, rushed ahead with one of the most massive peacetime strategic and conventional buildups in history. No one in a free country likes to spend money on weapons. I'd much rather see that money left in the hands of those who work for it, but as long as I'm President, I will not see our free country relegated to a position of weakness or inferiority to any other country. Now, this does not have to mean, necessarily, more and more weapons. One way out is reaching arms agreements which will reduce the number of nuclear weapons threatening mankind to equal and verifiable levels. If we're resolute in our search for an agreement while, at the same time, firm in protecting our own interests, arms reduction can be a reality. But let's not kid ourselves, progress in this arena will not come from weakness or vacillation. If the United States negotiates with anyone, it must be from a position of strength.
As the world has been reminded repeatedly in recent weeks, we're involved in a major research effort to see if it is feasible to build a system, a security space shield, which would protect us against missile attacks, against those giant intercontinental ballistic missiles. This program is an historic turning point. For the first time, energy and resources are being put to use in an attempt to find new technology that is aimed at saving lives. If we're successful, it will improve the opportunity for arms reduction because missiles, no longer the ultimate weapon they are today, will be more negotiable. You wouldn't know it from what they've been saying about the American research effort, but the Sviets have had an expensive, ongoing strategic defense research program of their own for years before we ever started such a thing. Well, the idea of using American technological genius to develop a system to protect us against nuclear missiles is moral and in the fundamental interest of the United States and our allies and the cause of peace. We will not bargain this research and testing program away when we get to Geneva.
Technological advances, like developing a space shield, offer us new options. Yet we should never forget that our independence and freedom ultimately depend on our courage, determination, and strength of character. And I think there's reason for optimism here, too. There is a new patriotism alive in our country. I've been in a few schools recently, doing what I am doing here and talking to some students. And I've been on a few campuses recently, and I've seen something that back when I was Governor and those rioting days were going on that I haven't seen. And I have to tell you, as you look at these young people up here, I have come to the conclusion the 21st century is going to be in good hands.
There's a new patriotism alive in our country. And, something about which I'm most proud, those brave men and women who are defending our way of life have no doubt that their fellow countrymen appreciate their dedication. As a former marine, Steve knows how important that is. He understands that the fellows who intercepted those terrorists last week need to know that we are behind them all the way. And I can tell you, I'm mighty proud of the job they did, as I know you are. They didn't have more than an hour's notice, and yet out there over the Mediterranean, with all the aerial traffic that is going on in that area, in the dark of night, they were able to pick out the target plane and persuade it to land where they wanted it to land. Any time, now and then, if you see someone in uniform -- it only takes a couple of steps out of the way -- you might want to say hello and give them a smile and tell them how proud we are. Do you know that today we have in our military the finest young men and women that I think we've ever had? As a matter of fact, we have the highest percentage of the military that are high school graduates that we have ever had in our nation's history -- 91 percent are graduates.
We're building an America that is confident and proud, where every citizen enjoys the fruits of peace and prosperity. Steve Symms and I know that our greatest days are still ahead. There's no limit to what free men and women can do, and there's no limit to how far America can go.
Thank you all. God bless you, and send these fellows back. Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 12:05 p.m. at the Morrison Center for the Performing Arts at Boise State University. He was introduced by Senator Symms. Following his remarks, the President attended a reception at the center for major donors to Senator Symms' reelection campaign. He then traveled to Milwaukee, WI.