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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks to the National Italian American Foundation


What I really want to do is get this distinguished group to ask you to file through into the Oval Office. Take a look at that and maybe get individual pictures.

But let me just tell you where we stand as we're getting near the end of this Congress, the end of this session. Last night the Senate passed a bill that offers, I think, some real hope for getting this budget deficit matter under control. I have stood against raising these individual income tax rates, and I think I'm on the right track in that. And I'm going to try to hold the line.

The Senate did a very good job on that compromise on one side or another. But I congratulate the leaders. I just had Bob Dole in here and got to thank him personally for his steadfast leadership. And then I think certain credit goes to George Mitchell, who held the line on the Democratic side. So, now they go to conference. They're starting at 11 o'clock. I expect it will start off with a photo opportunity -- all life does these days -- [laughter] -- and then they'll get down to some serious work.

It is a question now that could be solved in a very short period of time. But I think they have been serious -- the Senate -- working until all hours to bring it this far. There are big differences between the Senate and the House legislation, but I'd prefer not to go into what I think the details of the final bill will be. But I will say I, for the first time, feel optimistic that we can get this job done for the American people, and it needs to be done. I've found that if you want to make something happen, if you want to govern rather than just give speeches, you have to sit and work very hard and give a little and take a little. And it's in that spirit now that the White House is going to approach this conference. I hope that we can finally demonstrate to the American people that this deficit that is plaguing the generations to come can be managed. So, that's where we are on that one.

On the Middle East, you've, I'm sure, all followed that. And we've got a lot of kids over there -- wonderful, highly motivated, well-trained men and women. I'm as determined as I was the day that the first troop left that Saddam Hussein's aggression not be rewarded by some compromise, not be rewarded by our failing to get him totally out of Kuwait or restore the legitimate rulers.

And it's been a fascinating experience as we've pulled together the largest coalition of this nature perhaps since World War II -- I'm sure since World War II. And it's disparate: It's Arabs as well as other countries. Saddam Hussein's still trying to make people believe this is the Arab world against the United States of America. And he couldn't be more wrong. We have a majority in the Arab League -- strong majority. We've got strong support, both on the ground and in diplomatic forums, for what we're doing from Arab countries.

So, I think we've sent a very strong signal, but I think the bottom line is he can't prevail. So, we're going to stay with this, stay the course, and send a strong moral message out there, and a simple one: One big country can't bully its neighbor and take it over. That's the principle that we're fighting for. We also have national security interests which relate to the energy out there. So, it's been a fascinating experience.

With Pete Secchia here, I will simply say that -- I want to thank him for the job he's doing -- but say that I can't think of anybody who has been more cooperative in all of this than the Italian Government. You know, I've had a chance now to work with the Italian Prime Ministers in NATO, for example, and in the G - 7 meetings [economic summits of industrialized nations], and I can report to you what I think most of you already know, and that is that the relationship between Italy and the United States probably has never been better. We don't get in and choose up on some of the domestic political issues over there, of course. I mean, that's their business. We deal with whoever the Prime Minister is, whoever the government is. But whether it's one party or another, they've been steadfast friends of the United States, constructive in debate and in discussion, and we always end up kind of on the same wavelength. And I think that's a very, very important thing. And at times, I feel that, for reasons that escape me, people don't fully understand how well this relationship is set up and how well it's going.

I think, Pete -- I expect you'd agree with those comments, but -- and I will say that this Ambassador has done a very good job of getting out around the country, getting the feel for the people themselves, and making clear to them in every way possible -- through papers, through appearances and different groups around the country -- that we are their friends. Not that they doubt it. It doesn't hurt sometimes, when you have the turmoil around the world, to let your friends know you're not neglecting them and you're not forgetting the importance of them.

Besides that, we have an awful lot to learn from the Italian experts over there in matters that relate to neighboring countries. I'm thinking of the turmoil in Yugoslavia today, and I'm thinking of the evolution of change all through Eastern Europe. And I've found Mr. Andreotti and company to be extraordinarily helpful as I've had many, many discussions with them.

So, I think that part of our business is in fair shape. I've dwelled only on one domestic issue here, and that is the necessity of getting the budget deficit down. Congress is running out of time now to act on our Educational Excellence Act, which I think fits into some of the work of the foundation on education. And I regret that very, very much because we've got a good, sound program.

We are making progress, as Bill Bennett -- I don't know whether he's talked to you all today or not -- but anyway, making significant progress on this all-out war against drugs. Some of the statistics are very, very encouraging. I know, Paul, you know Jim Burke, who used to be head of Johnson and Johnson, and some of the rest of you probably know him as well. And he's headed up what we call a Points of Light approach, in this instance bringing media advertising to bear on this question of antinarcotics. And part of the work is staying in very close touch statistically through polls and surveys on this. And he shares Bill Bennett's optimism about the fact that the country is finally making progress, with dramatic use of heroin down, use of cocaine down -- use of all these heavy drugs down. And so, there's a light at the end of that tunnel, and we're going to stay with that one.

And on the national drug strategy, I think in fairness, we are getting pretty good support from Congress. We're not getting the support I want on the crime bill. We've had a different approach to it. Ours is hard-line. Ours is tough. And I think it's proper. And I regret very much that they have not come through and given us a crime bill that I can sign. And I don't think that we're going to get it before the end of this session.

Clean air -- I'm disappointed that we haven't finalized a clean air bill that is reasonable and one that does do what we started out to do, and that is make dramatic improvements in the clean air amendments. And I had one up there that we had to get agreement with on some of the Senators. And then we go to the House, and it gets caught up in a lot of extremes over there -- people wanting to drive industry totally to its knees. And I'm still convinced that we can find a sound balance between growth and jobs and sound environmental practice. And so, we're not home yet on the clean air amendments, but I'm hoping that we will be because I think it's very important for our country and for the generations to come. So, we're going to keep working.

A lot of these issues will carry over, obviously, until the brand new Congress -- they've got to start over, but headway will not be totally lost on some of these key questions. But I'm not handing out grades to Congress. They're grading me every single day. Some of it very flattering, and some of it not so pleasant. [Laughter] But that goes with the territory. And what I'm trying to do in the last -- back to where we started -- in the last few hours of this Congress is say: Look, let's put the people's business first. Let's lay aside this political rhetoric and get a job done that should have been done long ago, because it simply isn't right to mortgage the future of these kids anymore.

And with an economy that is sluggish, it is just exactly the time to demonstrate to the world that we can get the deficit down. You've all heard what Greenspan said about interest rates, provided we get a sound budget agreement. And I think better than a speech on the floor of the House would be a sound agreement that brings these interest rates down and starts growth and job opportunity for the American people. So, that's where I'm spending my time at the end of this session.

Thank you all very much for coming. And now if those who have the time -- I'd love to have you just file through and see the majestic Oval Office, and we'll get pictures. Thank you all very much.

Note: President Bush spoke at 10:16 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Robert Dole, Senate Republican leader; George Mitchell, Senate majority leader; President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti of Italy; William J. Bennett, Director of National Drug Control Policy; Paul Oreffice, chairman of Dow Chemical Corp.; James E. Burke, chairman of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America; and Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

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