August 5, 1981

The President. In the past several days, the Congress has acted with great wisdom and foresight in passing two bills that will help put us on the road to economic recovery. These bills -- the reconciliation bill and the tax bill -- are not yet here for signing, so we'll save that occasion for later. But before many of us leave Washington, I just wanted to ask all of these gentlemen down here for a few brief moments together.

In my view, the passage of this legislation marks the single most important achievement of the past 200 days. It represents the first serious step taken in decades to stop the growth of government, to end government's unwarranted intrusion into our lives, and to rebuild the foundations of our economy.

Now, those of you who are here now are among the chief architects and the builders of these bills. And your political skills, your legislative talents, your insights, your hard work are responsible for their success. And I don't think I have to elaborate on the remarkable role that each one of you has played in this. This can be safely left to history. But I would be remiss if I didn't say a few simple or totally inadequate but heartfelt words to each of you, and the words are ``thank you, thank you all.'' And they came not just from me but from the American people.

During the last 200 days, you've provided your countrymen with an example of representative democracy at its best. Those of you in the Republican leadership in the face of extraordinary pressures have forged a political unity that has rarely been equaled in Washington, and you did it first and foremost because you believed you were acting in the best interests of the country. And those of you here today who are members of the Democratic Party had the personal strength to put principle above partisan or special interests, and yours has been a special courage.

I think we can all agree that today our bipartisan coalition is becoming a strong and vibrant one. But I think we can also agree that we'll need this strength and vibrancy, because the challenges we must face together are by no means over. The struggle against government's irresistible urge to grow and grow is a continuing one. The fight to control the Federal budget is just beginning. But on this front, I think we can be very clear: There will be no falling back, no call for retreat.

We've stood together. We've fought together for what we believed was right. I know that we'll do so again. But today I wanted you to know how grateful I am to you and how grateful the American people are for your selflessness and your statesmanship.

Thank you.

Reporter. What's next, Mr. President?

The President. Oh, we've got a lot of goodies. [Laughter]

Q. Sir, the controllers are staying out and are being fired. What's next there?

The President. Well, we're up to about 75 percent of the normal air traffic. And there is still room for more to come back, because the 48 hours included until their shifts. So, there is an afternoon shift due in, there's a night shift and so forth, and we'll see what the total is in. As I understand, it's up to about 38 percent now are back in.

Q. Are you disappointed that after your speech -- what was your reaction when only about 33 percent reported?

The President. Well, I was sorry, and I am sorry for them. I think that these are fine people out there who have been misled and who don't quite understand that our position has to be irreversible. There is a law and an oath that they signed, and I don't think any of them would hold still if any of us here took an oath, decided that we didn't mean to keep that oath.

Q. As a former union president, do you feel any pangs about firing people who strike for higher wages?

The President. Well, you bet. Anyone who went through the Great Depression thinks that's the worst thing in the world that can happen to anyone. And I do feel badly; I certainly take no joy out of this. And I was hoping that more of them would recognize the obligation they have. But there just is no other choice.

Q. Sir, when are we going to start feeling the effects of recovery?

The President. Well, you've got to wait till October 1st before the tax cut begins -- [laughter] -- and so we have to wait till that money begins showing up in the private sector and being returned to investment. And you have to wait until the end of the next fiscal year -- or during the fiscal year for the effect of the lower government spending. But I think that those things together -- no one promised this is instant. I think that we're going to have to wait till we actually feel the effect of those things that have been adopted, going into action.

On the other hand, I do think that there is an immediate kind of psychological thing that is happening among the people that will have some effect.

Q. Mr. President, do you think that the country will be seriously harmed by this walkout in terms of so few really experienced air controllers on the job now?

The President. Well, as I say, if we're up already to 75 percent of normal air traffic, under the present situation, I think this is an indication that we're not faced with disaster. But I still think that if those people would recognize that their responsibility, not only in their personal oath but in obeying the law, there's still some time today for more of them to come back to work.

Q. You're not worried about flying tomorrow?

The President. For an old ex-horse-cavalryman, I'm always worried about flying. [Laughter]

Reporters. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 3:38 p.m. to reporters assembled in the Oval Office at the White House.