Interview With Representatives of the Scripps-Howard News Service

October 25, 1984

Q. Mr. President, I'm Dan Thomasson, editor of Scripps-Howard News Service. I wish to say thank you in advance for your time in this busy schedule. We'll just go right from there.

Priorities in Second Term

Q. Mr. President, how are you today?

The President. Fine.

Q. Nice to see you again, sir. I'm Jim Wieghart with the Washington Bureau of Scripps-Howard.

I thought I'd like to ask you today, in a relaxed way, looking ahead to the next 4 years, what do you think will be your main priorities in your second term? And secondly, do you anticipate making any changes in the Cabinet in your second term?

The President. Well, first of all, the priorities are, in a sense, going to be a continuation. Economically, we're going to continue trying the same overall things that were part of our program to begin with, and that is to continue trying to reduce the share that the government is taking from the private sector, from the gross national product, because I think that government can be, and was, a drag on the economy -- still is.

This, we believe, will -- if we proceed with this -- will also take care of the deficit problem. Because the real, only real way to raise government's revenues are not through tax increases, which further increase the drag in the economy; they're from growth in the economy. And we're going to continue trying, also, to make government less of a burden on business and private individuals with excessive regulations.

To show you what can happen with just even a minor element in government: We lumped together 62 categorical grant programs into 10 block grants to local and State governments. That not only eliminated 3,000 people who had been administering the 62 grants at the Federal level, but it changed the regulations out there at the local and State level, which had taken 885 pages, reduced them down to 30. And it's this type of thing -- much of this is what's contained in the recommendations of the commission that we had, and we're studying those 2,480 recommendations.

We're going to proceed, as I say, with all of that -- with tax reform, hoping to simplify it and make it possible for rates to come down again at the same time we broaden the base and, hopefully, can get some of that $100 billion that is now not coming in because of the underground economy; and in the international scene, to continue our two-track policy. One of them is, of course, the building of our own defensive capability. But at the same time, the other track is to try and get the Soviet Union to join us in realistic arms reduction talks. The overall goal is peace, and this is what we'll continue.

Now, with regard to any Cabinet changes, I would be just satisfied if there were none at all. But I do know that while no one has said anything, other than the resignation we know about of the Attorney General who has to return, or feels he must return to his private practice, the -- I know that when you ask, whenever I ask people to serve, whether on the staff or there, I made it plain that I'd take them for whatever time they could come. And if they then felt they had to leave, why I'd go out and find somebody else. No one has made any suggestions about that, but there possibly would be some that might want to get back to their own private lives. And if so, I would understand. But I have no intention of -- in other words, I'm not unhappy with anyone.

Involvement of U.S. Citizens in Central America

Q. Mr. President, my name is David Brown, and I'm the executive editor of the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee.

As you're aware, a group of private citizens -- many of them from west Tennessee and from north Alabama -- in the past year have been engaged in taking supplies to the rebels fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. And not only have they taken supplies down there, but they have engaged in training. And two men were shot down and slain in the past few months. Since those two men were killed, hundreds more citizens have joined this group known as the CMA. I'm wondering about your attitude, how you feel personally, about private citizens getting engaged in this way in what is happening in Central America.

And as I ask this question, there are 30 Memphians who are getting ready, who are prepared to fly to Honduras this weekend to work with groups, they say, are in that country who want to overthrow the Sandinistas. So, is there an ever-growing number of people in our country who want to do something on their own to, as they put it, stop communism before it gets to our borders, and how do you feel about it?

The President. Well, I have to say it's quite in line with what has been a pretty well established tradition in our country. Nothing was done legally about the formation of a brigade, a Communist brigade of Americans in the Spanish Civil War. In World War II, we had pilots being recruited to go to the Flying Tigers. I recall, if I'm correct, there were some people, even one very prominent actor from Hollywood who became an ambulance driver in the French Army in World War II.

So, I don't know. I'm not a lawyer, so I never asked about what is the actual legality of anything of that kind. But at the same time, as I say, it's been a tradition, and Americans have always done this. And I would be inclined to not want to interfere with them.

Q. Weren't the examples that you raised people who went to fight for governments who were fighting other governments' tyranny? In this case, we have Americans who are going to Central America to help rebels. They call them ``freedom fighters.'' Do you see a difference there?

The President. Well, as I say, ``I'm not so wise as those lawyer guys,'' as Mr. Service said in his poem. I haven't really gotten into that. I was giving you -- my own personal reaction to it was it seemed to be a long and honorable tradition. And in a sense, our own interest in Nicaragua has to do with their overt support of guerrillas, themselves, who are trying to overthrow a duly elected government of a neighboring country -- El Salvador. So, no one has raised the issue before of these individual Americans.

Q. If it would not be illegal, would there be anything wrong with it in your mind, in any other way? Morally? Or can they get in the way of our government in trying to do something about the problems in Central America?

The President. Well, if you get into the moral issue of it, we were certainly tested with regard to that Spanish Civil War I mentioned, because I would say that the individuals that went there were, in the opinion of most Americans, fighting on the wrong side.

Welfare Programs

Q. Mr. President, Angus McEachran from the Pittsburgh Press.

Mr. President, you took office 4 years ago, determined to drastically cut what you said were overly generous welfare programs. And in February of '81, just 1 month after taking office, you introduced 84 proposals to reduce or eliminate Federal programs that obviously took fat from the domestic side of the budget. Among those reductions was a 17.4-percent decrease in unemployment insurance, a 14.3-percent decrease in Aid to [Families with] Dependent Children, a 13.8-percent decrease in food stamps, a 28-percent reduction in child nutrition, a 6.8-percent decrease in Medicare, and a 2.8 in Medicaid.

Obviously, a great number of American people have agreed with you that some cuts were necessary. But the Urban Institute cites that the poverty level grew faster in the first 3 years of your Presidency than any other period since the fifties. The Congressional Budget Office in July reported that budget reductions alone -- taking unemployment as an aside -- but the budget reductions alone had pushed 560,000 people below the poverty line -- 325,000 of them children alone.

Mr. President, what further cuts in welfare spending will be necessary in the next Reagan administration? And secondly, how do you answer your opponents who say that you are practicing social Darwinism?

The President. Well, I answer them -- first of all, I challenge the Urban Institute's figures. And I don't think that they can be substantiated at all, because we are spending more money today and helping more people than at any time in our nation's history. With regard to food, the increase in food programs is up 37 percent over what it was.

We made cuts in suggested increases. We have reduced -- on the domestic side of the budget -- we have reduced the rate of increase in spending from 17 percent down to 6 percent.

But in many of these figures, for example in food stamps, some of the so-called savings in food stamps -- we're, incidentally, giving more food stamps to more people than we've ever done before in history. There are something like, oh, I think somewhere around 3 million more people are getting them than were getting them in 1980. But here we found, for example, that in food stamps, someone applied for food stamps, let's say it's 3 days before the end of the month, they were given the whole month's food stamps for the preceding month, for just those few days of the month left. Now, come the first of the month, they were due, again, a quota for the coming month. And we started giving them food stamps as of the day they asked for them, not retroactively for weeks before they'd put in the request. And that amounted to quite a percentage, in a reduction.

We also, in many of these programs, found that there were people who were above an income level as to where they should be eligible for these programs, and what we did was redirect the attention down. And we've set for ourselves a standard of 130 percent of poverty -- that that was the limit. Above that, it would have to be an exceptional case. But if they're below 130 percent of poverty, they were helped. So, the result was, for example, in school lunches there was a big increase for those people that were truly below the poverty line.

What we did do was reduce somewhat the subsidy for the people up above that line. I think in one instance it prorated out -- like the subsidy increased -- these are people that pay something for the lunches, but not the full cost -- I think one of those cuts meant that their personal payment was increased 3 cents per lunch.

But this is true of most of the figures. And I haven't really studied the ones I've seen -- just sketchily -- the Urban Institute's figures. But I don't see how they can claim those figures when we can show that in every instance and in every program we are spending more money and helping more people than ever before in our history.

So, we intend to preserve the safety net. There's never been any intention to do away with that or to eliminate it. But things, such as I suggested earlier in these 2,470 or 80 recommendations of that commission that we had of some 2,000 business people in this country, looking at areas where modern business practices could be put to work.

The Federal Government has a substantially higher overhead cost for delivering $1 of services to the people than any other level of government in this country. And I don't see why it should necessarily be higher for us than it is for them.

And so these are the areas where we think -- when sometimes you see what looks like a reduction -- well, maybe we've just been more efficient in getting the job done. But we haven't hurt the people that are dependent on the program.

Now, you mentioned Medicare. And I have to be frank and tell you, there is a problem with Medicare. It is not as bad as the problem we had with Social Security, in which it was slated to go bankrupt before July of 1983. Now, our opponents, and Tip O'Neill in the lead, they challenged us and said that wasn't true. And they were right; it wasn't true -- the program went belly-up in November of 1982. It didn't get to July of 1983.

We borrowed $17 billion to keep the checks from bouncing. That was when we, then -- after they had used it in the '82 campaign as demagogically as they had -- that was when we went back and said, ``Now -- we've been asking you for 3 years -- now will you sit down with us in a bipartisan commission and figure out an answer to this Social Security problem?'' And they did. And we figured it out, and Social Security is as safe now as it can be, as far as we can see into the next century. And we didn't cut the benefits to the recipients in our bipartisan plan.

So, I think a lot of these figures to try and point out that we somehow have been trying to balance the budget on the backs of the needy is just not true. The needy are being cared for. And I'll have to get some of our people to go to work on that set of figures.

Environmental Issues

Q. Mr. President, what do you consider to be your administration's most important achievement in the field of conservation of natural resources?

The President. Well, they're very much more than anyone's giving us credit for.

Q. You've seen some criticism in Florida recently about that.

The President. Yes. Well, the one that they're presently saying the most about is the Superfund and the cleanup of the toxic waste dumps. Well, the Superfund was passed before we got here, and there had been very little time for this -- for inventorying these dumps and where they may be in the country. And so, it's on our watch that we have found out, so far, that there are probably 1,400 or more such dumps that do represent the potential for being a toxic waste threat.

And so far, we have begun work on about 600 of them -- completed work on a half a dozen. So, the campaign charges that we've only cleaned up six -- well, we think we're doing pretty well.

What we had to do -- now many of these, they take some study to find out if they truly are a threat -- and what we're doing are rating them as to what are the most imminent threats, the most dangerous, and going at those as fast as we can. We're going to support, of course, the renewal of the Superfund next year when it's due, to continue on that.

But that's just one facet. We found that the parks were a threat healthwise, from a safety factor, and just simply from a point of pollution and cleanliness. The maintenance had been so poor over a number of years. So, we stopped for a time buying additional land for the parks and set aside a billion dollars for a 5-year cleanup plan of the national parks. That is just about completed now, a year ahead of schedule. And the parks are restored with regard to cleanliness and safety features that were being violated. And we now have budgeted for going back to purchasing land for parks.

We have added to the wetlands. We have added to the wildlife refuges. We have added millions and millions of acres to the national wilderness.

The pure air and pure water act, which were in place before we got here, are implemented to the point that we have the cleanest air and water that we've had since 1970 -- I mean it's been cleaned up since that time.

And the doubling of the research for acid rain was because we discovered that the more we had learned about acid rain, the more we found out we needed to know. And the truth of the matter is the cleanup would represent over $100 billion if you just simply said we must eliminate all the rest of sulfur dioxide from the air that industry is putting there. And yet we had to say -- from the research that had been done so far -- there was no assurance that that cleanup would solve the acid rain problem. We found, as we continued researching, a lot of things we'd never known before.

And so, we're going to continue as fast as we can with that research, and then we'll do whatever has to be done. We are experimenting with liming some lakes, which can restore those lakes.

But I don't know what other elements of it -- you know, being the villain of the environmental piece is kind of strange for me, because we started the whole thing in California when I was Governor. And the Federal Government sent people out to see us because they said we were so far ahead of anything that they were doing.

Social Security

Q. Mr. President, Tom Tuley, from Evansville, Indiana -- not far from Dixon, Illinois.

The President. Where?

Q. Not far from Dixon, Illinois.

The President. Oh, well.

Q. You mentioned Social Security. I asked our readers in advance of this trip what questions they would like to ask of the President, and my mail showed an overwhelming concern in our community for Social Security. There is a real fear that in a second term that you would cut benefits. How can you answer those people?

The President. This, of course, is the same demagoguery that they heard in 1982 and why, in all of 1981, we were never able to persuade our opponents to join us in what we asked for -- the same bipartisan commission we eventually wound up with. And they were set on using that, and, of course, those people are frightened. And I think it's disgraceful -- people that are dependent on Social Security, past their earning years, have no place else to turn, and someone comes around telling them that there are people that have got some secret plan to take this away from them.

Well, why hasn't anyone pointed out that the increase in taxes in 1977, in the previous administration, to try and straighten out Social Security -- and they said that they had straightened it out till the year 2015, and they hadn't straightened it out -- well, they said for 50 years -- they hadn't straightened it out for 5.

And not only was it a massive tax increase, but everyone that was born after 1916 gets Social Security at a 25-percent less rate than the people that are presently on it. So, in 1981 the people who started going on Social Security, they're getting checks 25-percent lower than the others. That was part of that 1977 plan.

But, no, there would be no reason for us to change it. The program has been placed on a sound financial basis. And I just think if you ladies and gentlemen of the press would go out of the way a little bit to tell these frightened senior citizens that they're going to continue to get their payments, and no one is going to take anything away from them -- in that regard, good Lord, I volunteered that if we got inflation below 3 percent, the law said we didn't have to give them a cost-of-living increase, and I said we would, anyway, because we had delayed them for 6 months during this new program of ours -- that they'd gone without getting their raise for an extra 6 months before it was instituted. And I thought it was only fair that the first year that we did get this below the figure of the law, that we'd go ahead and give it to them anyway.

The point is -- and you can, with a clear conscience, reassure them -- Social Security is not a part of the deficit or the deficit problem. Social Security is entirely funded by a payroll tax. And if you reduced Social Security, that money wouldn't go into the general fund to pay back that; it would go back into the trust fund of Social Security.

So, when anyone starts saying, ``What are you going to do about that, about reducing the deficit?'' -- it doesn't have anything to do with the deficit.

Nuclear Power

Q. Mr. President?

The President. Yes.

Q. Harry Moskos, Knoxville News-Sentinel. The antinuclear atmosphere intimidates private industry, making it skeptical about committing to long-term, long-scale energy demonstration projects. If the Government doesn't fund these projects, research vital to the Nation's energy future could be killed or hopelessly delayed. What is the administration's position?

The President. Well, I think there's an area in which you can say that you can't, just because someone is afraid to move forward on something, that the government, then, ought to finance that. I believe in nuclear power, and I think that the fear that's been generated of it is almost superstitious and unwarranted completely.

When you stop to think that here is a power source that we've had now in operation for quite some number of years, and there has never been a nuclear fatality in that industry, and then you compare that to coal mining and a few other things, you wonder why and how this fear is justified. I know that there's a thing that people think that a nuclear powerplant's something that can turn into a nuclear bomb and blow up. Well, that's impossible, and it can't.

But what we need is more education of the people that nuclear power is a safe source of energy. And there are other countries that have gone far beyond what we've done in that regard, and they've, most of them, had the same safety records that we've had in it.

I don't think it's a case of us funding this. I think it's a case of, between all of us -- one thing that government can do, and I've asked our people to do -- and that is to see if we can't shortcut some of the requirements that we make. For example, when I was Governor of California, I discovered that someone that wanted to build a nuclear powerplant, they had to get 65 environmental clearances, and there was no one-window stop. They couldn't go to one place and get cleared.

Now, they could spend millions of dollars going down through this with the knowledge that when they got to the 65th, that one could cancel out all the progress that they'd made, and they still wouldn't be able to, even after they'd spent all those millions of dollars. It seems to me what we need is a kind of a, as I say, a one-window stop.

And, of course, this isn't all Federal Government. A lot of these requirements are at different levels of government. But this is one of the things that is -- when you see a company that's spent billions of dollars and they still, then, can't get a clearance to operate -- we've got to do something about that.


Q. Mr. President -- [inaudible] -- granted what you say is true about Social Security, that it is now in a position where it can be funded adequately, what about Medicare? That's a problem coming up in your administration.

The President. Well, I did mention that earlier, but I didn't explain. It isn't as imminent; it's got several more years before it would find that. But it has a fund with its trust fund, the Medicare fund. And what we're suggesting right now, and are talking about, are some things, actually, rather than aiming them at the recipients, we're aiming at the providers.

And we have proposed to hospitals and doctors, but particularly the hospitals, that we have a set of fees for various ailments, and we're trying -- we're doing that right now -- in which the hospital accepts this. And if they can't provide the care within the fee, that's out of their pocket. But if they can provide it for less than the fee, they get that profit. They can -- --

Q. I doubt whether many will provide it for less. [Laughter]

The President. Well, no, because there's an incentive to provide it for less: that if they can provide the service less than our fee, they get to keep the difference.

Q. Oh, I see.

The President. Yes. But the other way then, the penalty is, if they spend more, that's out of their pocket.

Q. Sir, it doesn't just take a massive campaign with the hospital administrators, the whole medical profession?

The President. Well, we've had no great protest so far on this.

President's Closing Statement in Foreign Policy Debate

Q. Mr. President, before somebody else steps in and cuts us off after 4 minutes, can you finish the California time capsule letter that you were in the process of explaining? [Laughter]

The President. I had finished with the letter on the air and was simply getting to the point of what I was going to say. And I've been saying it on these college campuses the last few days that I've been out there, that I was going to say that we had the responsibility, all of us, as I put it, my generation and a few generations between mine and theirs, to see that they were turned over, by us -- or we turned over to them -- a nation that was free in a world that was at peace. And that was the gist of it.

But I have to tell you, I was telling the truth, and I ad-libbed that whole thing in the 1976 convention when Jerry Ford asked me to come down to the platform and say a few words. And that was the first -- well, the only time up until now that I had ever voiced this. But what had happened, the idea was, what our people a hundred years from now are going to say about us, and did we do right by them or wrong by them?

But the thing was that I truly was riding down the coast -- I said ``driving.'' Actually, I was riding, and somebody else was driving, and I was trying to put down some notes. But when I was looking around and thinking, that is when it struck me, ``Wait a minute, I'm talking about a letter as if I'm writing to some people that don't know about us.'' And I realized that I had a much harder problem than I had thought, that that letter -- how do you write to somebody that's read all about us in the history books, knows all our problems and what we did? And I wrote the letter then with that idea in mind: that what I could be telling them about they might not know was how we approached what we thought about in these things, and what were the controversies and so forth in the thinking.

Mr. Speakes. [Larry M. Speakes, Principal Deputy Press Secretary to the President] Mr. President, you know that your time -- --

Q. Somebody is cutting you off.

Ms. Spaeth. [Merrie Spaeth, Special Assistant to the President and Director, Office of Media Relations] Mr. President, on that note I think we should close the session.

The President. Okay.

Ms. Spaeth. Thank these gentlemen, and my apology -- --

The President. Okay. Can't I take one more?

Q. I wanted to tell you I had lunch with Mel Laird yesterday, and he told me he sent a telegram to Edwin Newman, and he said: ``Dear Ed, thank you for limiting the President's time. I was afraid he might take a left turn on Highway 101 and drive into the ocean.'' [Laughter]

The President. Well, you know, everyone had told me wrong. I was afraid that -- I knew what I was going to say in that closing statement and had it all planned -- but I was afraid it might be a little over 4 minutes. But our people gave me the wrong steer. They said because I was going last, that it didn't matter then anymore. I didn't know Mr. Newman was going to be so -- [laughter] -- gung ho, and he shut me off.

But I've told it to the kids, and I must tell you: 13,000 students at Ohio State University the other day, they just loved the finish. [Laughter]

Listen, I'm sorry that the questions kind of seemed to get me here on a filibuster on some of them. But they should have been yes-and-no questions.

Q. Mr. President?

Ms. Spaeth. I have to close it now. Thank you.

The President. Well, I'll answer him while I'm walking out. Stay seated, please.

Q. This is a light question. Doonesbury's back in the papers in the country, and a lot of editors are getting a lot of heat from readers who think he's unfairly criticizing you. Some think it's a parody of your critics. Do you ever have occasion to read Doonesbury? And what do you think of it?

The President. I am a devoted comic strip reader. I read every comic strip in the paper. And so, when he came back I started reading him. I have to tell you that I think some of your readers are absolutely right. [Laughter]

Note: The interview began at 4:37 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

The interview was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on October 26.