Interview With Burl Osborne and Carl Leubsdorf of the Dallas Morning News
January 8, 1985
U.S.-Soviet Talks in Geneva
Q. Can we ask you, since our time is limited, if you can tell us anything about what's been going on in Geneva? Because that's what I think everyone is the most interested in.
The President. Well, let me just say there isn't too much I can tell you right at the moment. But I have just finished talking to George Shultz, and the meetings are concluded. And in 45 minutes, by our time, George will be addressing the press over there, making a statement to the press and probably taking some of their questions.
And then he will be home. Some of the others are going to stop by other heads of state, like Bud McFarlane's going to go to see Mrs. Thatcher and, I think, also in France and Italy and brief others of our allies on what took place. And George will be here to brief me tomorrow afternoon. And then I'll know more when they start asking questions at the press conference tomorrow night.
Q. Are you pleased with what's happened? I mean, has it met what you expected?
The President. It sounds very good. I don't want to go any further than calling attention to what George is going to say, but I think we're going to see meetings that will be arranged shortly, meetings to negotiate nuclear weapons and space and all.
Q. But this would really meet what you had hoped? Have we gotten from this what we had hoped to get?
The President. Yes, this is all this meeting was supposed to do is to establish procedures for negotiations. I'm afraid some of the people overlook that. And I'd flinch a little when I would see references, and particularly on the air, as if this was supposed to be the arms negotiation. No, this was to set up the procedures.
Q. But there was always a question whether it would, in fact, set up the procedures.
The President. That's right, yes.
Q. From what you're saying, the announcement will tell us that it, in fact, has.
The President. I think that's what George will be telling people in 45 minutes.
Q. Okay. I guess we'll switch it to domestic issues. The Senate Republicans are planning to put out a budget several days before you put out your budget. And there has been information from White House officials in recent days that they don't think you'll be able to reach the targets that had been established about a month or so ago for deficit reduction. Do you think that this process is moving away from the White House? Do you think there's some danger you may be dealt out of this process?
The President. No, not at all. As a matter of fact, I'm perfectly willing to have the Senate do that. I think that in working together they may have some ideas we didn't have. But, no, what our goal is, and what we hope to present to the Congress in our budget proposal is one in which the overall spending will be no greater in `86 than it was in `85. Now, that means that because some things are inflexible, such as the interest on the debt, that there will be some particular parts of government that will be getting less money. There may be some that we think ought to be eliminated. And so it won't be a freeze in the sense of freezing every item of spending in the budget at its previous level -- some will be increased; some will be decreased; some will be eliminated. But the total we're aiming at will be no increase in overall spending.
Defense Spending and Social Security
Q. Many people on the Hill -- and many Republicans as well as Democrats -- are saying this: They're saying that because of your feeling that defense spending has to grow at the rate, or close to the rate intended, and because of what you've said about Social Security and other things like that, that it's impossible to reach even that goal.
The President. No. Let me take two items: defense to begin with. For 1986, the Defense Department itself has come in with a bigger cut than had been asked in the original plan that came over from OMB. The difficulty there, however, is in the out years. And I think that Defense has a legitimate argument about not setting figures. Now, you know we're required anymore by Congress -- and I have to tell you, having been 8 years in the budgeting process in California, I do not look with great favor upon this idea that you're supposed to project for the next 5 years what your budgets are going to be.
And with Defense, their argument is that no one, with regard to defense spending, can tell you what the necessities are going to be down the road or in years ahead. What if a potential adversary does something in the coming year that forces your hand to have to meet, in some way, with an additional defense capability or whatever? So Defense has done it for this year, and then has expressed the inability -- they have to project some figures, but those figures are meaningless for the out years. But they've done that.
Now, as for Social Security, here again I'd like to point out with regard to Social Security that while Social Security is included in the unified budget -- and that, again, by an edict of Congress -- Social Security is totally funded by a payroll tax. And that payroll tax cannot be used for any other part of government. In other words, if you somehow reduced Social Security -- actually, Social Security's running a surplus over and above its present income, but that surplus goes into their trust fund. It cannot be used to fund some other department of government.
Q. There's been some indication that an administration official who met with a group of reporters yesterday indicated that you might be willing to accept some kind of freeze on cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients if Congress gets together on the idea.
The President. No, I think whoever that individual was referring to was someplace here in our own meetings -- and there have been hours of them on the budget thing. My own remark on one occasion that, obviously, if Congress was -- because there were stories that Congress was targeting and said something should be done about that -- that if Congress, en masse came down on the side of, say, reducing or holding off on the COLA, the cost-of-living increase, you know, what would I be able to do about that?
Now, a veto is only possible if there's a chance that your veto would be upheld. And I never remark about possible vetoes until whatever legislation we're talking about comes down to my desk and I see it. But that was the only remark. But again, as I say, you can't blame any of the deficit on Social Security.
Q. Are you saying that they would have to be able to pass it over your veto in order for that to happen? Or that -- --
The President. Well, I'm saying I'm waiting to see what is Congress' attitude about that.
Q. But you might be willing to change your previous position on that if it looked like an overwhelming number of Congressmen really felt this was necessary?
The President. No, I feel committed to what I said about Social Security before: That this attempt during the campaign, as they did in 1982, to charge that I had secret plans for reducing Social Security -- I had no such plans, I have no such plans, and I see no reason to target Social Security when it plays no part in the deficit.
Q. So that in fact, you're basically not encouraging this idea very much?
The President. No, no.
Personnel Changes in the White House and the Cabinet
Q. Some of the conservatives in town have been watching what's been going on with your administration, especially since the election, and they see Bill Clark is going to go back to California, and they see that Ed Meese is going to go to the Justice Department, and from their initial comments, they're not going to be any much more happy with Don Regan than they are with Jim Baker. And they're afraid that there are not going to be any true believers in this White House in the second term. Should they be concerned?
The President. No, I don't think so, because the true believer in the White House is sitting here in the Oval Office. And no one has been whittling at me or trying to change my philosophy since I've been here.
But now, the case, for example, of Ed Meese going over to Justice. Well, he's been a Counsellor to me, and we've been together for a great many years, as you well know. Well, being my Attorney General -- [laughing] -- does not remove him from my being able to seek his counsel whenever I feel like doing so.
As for Don Regan coming over here, I don't know how anyone can complain about him, ideologically or philosophically. He has been as loyal to everything that I've wanted to do as anyone that I could name.
Q. So you think that this is not something they should worry so much about?
The President. No. And sometimes I wonder if some of those very vocal conservatives are really conservatives in conservatives' eyes. They're not in mine.
Q. One of the people they would like to see you find a place for is Mrs. Kirkpatrick.
The President. I want to find a place for Mrs. Kirkpatrick.
Q. Have you found one yet?
The President. We'll be talking again after the Inaugural. I could quite understand. She's been longer in her post at the U.N. than anyone who ever held that job. And it is a job in which you can find yourself saying, ``Enough, already.'' But I am hoping that I can keep her in the administration.
Q. With all these changes, how do you feel about this? You're going to enter your second term with a rather changed cast of characters around here. And a lot of people you've dealt for with a long time, really, like -- --
The President. Yes.
Q. -- -- Ed and Mike are not going to be here.
The President. Well, Ed's going to be here. As I say, he's within reach. He'll still be a member of the Cabinet. He'll just be sitting in a different chair. And Mike, I can understand his wanting to leave now for the private sector. But this isn't as many changes as some administrations have had.
Q. It's been remarkably stable up till now.
The President. Yes. And I have been gratified by that, because everyone that I asked to serve, I told them, as I told the public, that I recognize that they -- many of them, most of them -- would be coming at a great personal sacrifice. And I could not expect them to contract in for the run of the show. And so they've all known that when the time came that they felt they had to return to their own lives, I would understand, and I'd try to replace them with someone equally qualified. And I'm just gratified that we have so many still here. And some of the moves are just, as I say, changing slots, but still here in government.
Q. Let me ask you about this latest change. Is this correct that you didn't know what was going on till they came to you yesterday?
The President. [Laughing] They weren't ready to come to me until yesterday.
All I know is that it was -- originally, it was Don Regan's idea, and he'd talked to Jim. Jim has always -- and has let me know -- he has always wanted, if something opened up, a Cabinet post. And he's been on a long stretch, 4 full years here in that job.
Q. You don't think he encouraged the Secretary with this idea?
The President. No, as a matter of fact, it was Don's idea. And Don himself felt that he'd had enough of what he was doing, that he wanted a change. So I was -- --
Q. Were you easily convinced?
The President. What?
Q. Were you easily convinced?
The President. Well, Don came and we had a talk about it, and then I had a talk with Jim. I wanted to make sure that this was something that both of them were very happy about and wanted to do. And frankly, I thought it was a great idea. It sure beat having them decide to go back to private life.
Tax Reform Program
Q. Now that you have Mr. -- we're going to have Don Regan over here, are you going to have his tax plan over here, too? Are you going to -- --
The President. [Laughing] No, that'll be Jim's to sell up on the Hill. But I'm quite sure that Don will be most helpful on that because -- --
Q. Are you going to endorse it, basically, in your State of the Union speech?
The President. I'm going to speak of the need for simplifying taxes. I'm not going to get into great details, as I will in the subsequent State of the Union Address. But the tax program -- and incidentally, some of your colleagues in the press and particularly columnists have been sniping that I'm dangling in the wind here, and all the momentum has stopped because we haven't been doing anything with that. That's not true.
We realized, all of us agreed, that the first priority had to be the budget. And we've been spending hours and hours -- we've had no time to go on to something else. When that's done, then we go at the tax program. And that's one that -- just like the budget -- we're going to have to look at everything that has been recommended, treat some of them, I'm sure, as options, and then decide what form we want to take. I think it's been one of the best tax studies that's ever been made.
Q. But you're not ready to endorse a lot of the specifics in it yet?
The President. Well, we haven't had time to do as we've done with the budget, to sit down with it and say, ``All right, point by point, let's go through it.'' I haven't even done that. I have a copy of the plan on my desk. And while I've read a summary, I haven't been able to do that because my mind is too filled with the budget.
Q. Could you tell us the level of your confidence that you can enact a plan along the lines you describe and meet the deficit reduction targets that you've set?
The President. Yes, I think we can. Yes. And the goal is one thing that I will be saying publicly is that -- there's never been any thought on the part of any of us that after 50 years of built-in, structural deficit spending, with only a few exceptional years when it didn't take place -- there's no way that you can gear segments of the society to government doing many of these things and then just pull the rug out from them all at once and say, ``We're going to balance the budget in 1 year.'' It just couldn't be done.
It's only fair to do as we will with some programs and say to the people, ``Look, this program is going to either disappear down here or be reduced down sizably in the years ahead,'' to give people a chance to adjust to this.
So, yes, we have hit upon a plan of putting us on a declining path as far as the deficits are concerned to the point that we will be able to project a date certain at which the budget will be balanced. And then I would hope -- and before then -- I would hope that we would make it constitutionally impossible for the Government to run another deficit.
Q. Burl, you had a question you wanted -- --
The President's Views on the Media
Q. I was going to ask, given the fairly widespread view, perception, that you don't think too highly of the media, however one defines it -- I wonder if you would tell us what you do think of -- not the media, but newspapers and television, specifically, and what their faults are, and what the -- --
The President. I've never had any complaints about the paper you represent. [Laughing]
Q. Well, that's very kind.
The President. No, I think inside the beltline here, in Washington, is a kind of a company town. And the great search for leaks, and the premature billing of something as a fact when many times it isn't a fact, this can become a problem. It can become a problem, for example, on the international scene to take a leak, some information from someone who won't let their name be used, and to take this as valid enough to print on the front page of a paper, and then leave us with having to mend fences with some friendly government that is offended by this misinformation. And there have been cases of that kind.
I guess all that I would like to say is that I wish that the media that does so much of that -- that portion of the media -- I wish that they would have an ethic in which they would check that out with us to see whether it, in some way, might be harmful to our national security, and take our word for it if we said that it would be. And we'd be willing to explain why it would be. Then we might not have so many incidents that do cause us problems and set back, sometimes, programs that have been going forward.
Q. Thank you, Mr. President.
The President's Views on Astrology
Q. Mr. President, is it true that, as I've heard, that you have some interest in astrology? Someone told me that recently.
The President. [Laughing] No. No, I'll tell you, we knew personally, Nancy and I, the gentleman out in California that did this for the Los Angeles Times. And so, knowing him and all, it used to be fun in the morning, in the morning with the paper -- and it's easy for me, because I always read the comics, and they put it on the same page as the comics -- that I would take delight in telling Nancy what her day was going to be, and -- [laughing] -- and what mine was supposed to be, and so forth.
Q. Do you know what the signs are for your Inauguration?
The President. No. No, I haven't done things like -- --
Q. I looked it up. It looked pretty good -- --
The President. It did?
Q. -- -- if you're an Aquarian.
The President. I'm an Aquarian, yes. And of course I do believe that part of astrology since I found out that there are more Aquarians in the, recorded up there in New York someplace, in the well-known citizen's list of -- [laughing] -- --
Q. Hall of Fame or -- --
The President. -- -- yes, the Hall of Fame, so I said, ``Well, that must be true, then.''
Q. Thank you very much, Mr. President. We appreciate the time.
The President. You bet.
Note: The interview began at 4:17 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. It was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on January 9.