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Public Papers - 1989 - April

Remarks at the National Conference of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL - CIO

1989-04-18

Thank you for that warm welcome. Thank you, Bob Georgine, for that warm welcome. Since the election is over, the story can now be told: a proud story about all the help this guy gave me in the last two elections. [Laughter] No, here's the way it worked, really. [Laughter]

In this very room, I'm at an Italian-American dinner in 1984, sitting up here at the high -- you know, the big dais here and everything. Georgine comes over -- very pleasant to my wife, who could well be his campaign manager if he has higher aspirations. [Laughter] And he says, ``You've got to understand, George,'' he tells me, ``you've got to understand. Don't you realize Geraldine Ferraro is an Italian? Don't you understand that?'' I said, ``Yes, I understand, so I was waiting for 1988.'' [Laughter] See him at the same dinner, same place, looking at him. ``Hey, come on.'' And he says, ``You've got to understand.'' I looked at his nametag. I'm running against Michael Dukakis, famous Greek-American. I see his nametag -- Bob Georgapolis -- [laughter] -- little much.

But look, here I am, and I appreciate very much the tone with which your outstanding leader set the agenda here today and the warm welcome that you gave me. And I do have great respect for Bob Georgine. I've told him this. The door will be open over there to him, to the leaders here, and to all of you, whom he represents so well. And he doesn't hide behind the differences. We get them out there on the table. But there's a lot more to the relationship between the White House and the labor organizations than one issue or another.

And I think of this group, and I think of patriotism. I think of love of country. I think of family and the values that have always made this country great. And so, I came over here to salute you and to express my great appreciation and to tell you a couple other things. The puppies are fine. [Laughter] And even more important, my wife's health is great, and I appreciate that.

So, I think we all have a lot to be grateful for, and I'm honored by the presence of many friends here today. I have great confidence in and respect for and obvious friendship with our Secretary of Labor Elizabeth Dole, who's with me here today and who's going to speak in just a minute. And I appreciate the cooperation so many of you have given her already. I want to salute Tom Ridge, a friend of mine of long standing, and I don't think labor has a better friend in the Congress. Of course, there's others up here: the Teamsters president Billy McCarthy down there, a friend of mine; and Buddy Ruel and John Bowden of the Iron Workers; Bill Dugan and John Bertrand of the Operating Engineers; Eddie Brubeck, Indianapolis Building Trades, and many, many others. I'm going to make an omission and thus hurt feelings, and I don't want to do that. But I want to thank everybody.

We hold elections in this country -- it's a good thing -- and then we move on. Leadership assumes office; it exerts its influence. But it must never presume that it does any more than speak and act for the people, and we have had honest differences. But we agree on goals, and what matters is that we make progress on issues of shared concern.

So, I begin today with a special word of thanks. Your Dad's Day event is a shining example of voluntarism in action. And it's a reminder of how we in America must learn to measure success: not by the sum of our possessions but by the good we do for others. And on Father's Day, the Building Trades will be winning a victory for humanity, large and small.

Your theme for this magnificent conference is ``Building for the Future.'' And so, today I want to share just a few thoughts on how we can build a better America. We're a prosperous nation. Thank God we're at peace. And you've heard the numbers: 76 months of recordbreaking economic growth -- a growth rate that outstrips the nations of Europe, exceeding all expectations -- and nearly 20 million new jobs. Unemployment at a 15-year low; real family income at all-time high; output of goods and services up over 27 percent since the end of '82. But we have to remember what's driving the economic growth: the enterprise and the energy of people like yourselves. You build a better America every single day.

Anyone who forgets that the working men and women drive this economy ought to take a lesson from the guy with the circular saw who runs over his own power cord. The guy may think he's headed in the right direction, but he's headed for a real shock. [Laughter]

Our economy is healthy. But to keep the momentum going, to keep America competitive, and to keep the building trades strong, we must keep inflation and interest rates down; and moreover, we must bring them down further. The way to do that is to bring the budget deficit down. And it isn't fun working at it, but I am going to succeed. We've got to bring that deficit down.

I'm pleased to say that we've reached a budget agreement with Congress. And I'd add that this is the first such agreement reached ahead of schedule and not framed in the context of crisis. This is only a first step, but it is an important step. This budget agreement meets our fundamental obligations to protect national security and support the needy. It provides funds to advance high-priority initiatives, but it also -- and this is the hard part -- it restrains the overall growth of Federal spending so that we can meet these Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit targets. Next year alone, Federal revenues will rise by more than billion, with no tax increase. And that's an agreed revenue increase -- I believe it's agreed by both the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] and our own estimates. This agreement should bring the deficit for 1990 down to .4 billion, and that is a billion reduction in 1 year.

And let me say this -- I did keep a promise I made, and it was alluded to by Bob Georgine: We have not raised taxes on the working men and women of this country. And I'm going to hold the line on those taxes. What the budget does do is put our priorities in the right place. It puts the focus on the kind of investment we need to build on economic growth and stimulate competitive enterprise, and that means -- and I know this one is controversial -- but it means restoring the capital gains differential to 15 percent.

Whatever else you've heard, the capital gains cut will make us more competitive with our major trading partners who tax capital gains lightly, if at all. It will bring in .8 billion more in tax revenues in 1990, according to the Treasury Department, and it will help American enterprise grow. But the big thing about it is: More people will start businesses; more people will help join in creating jobs and competitiveness, opportunity and growth, saving investment for the long-term, and more jobs. And that is what we are all fighting for. So, I must make clear why it is I am fighting for that one provision, that change in the Tax Code.

Construction-related jobs are vital to a strong economy; but as we work to create those jobs, we need to make sure that every person who takes a construction job is as safe as we can make them. And one step -- we've established a new Office of Engineering Support in OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] to work more closely with you for better accident investigation and prevention.

Along with keeping workers safe, building a better, more competitive America demands that the workers are skilled. And we need to ease some of the shortages of talent already developing in your trades and many others. So, we're looking to the only long-term solution: comprehensive education and training. Over 50 million Americans -- this is a mind-boggling figure -- 50 million Americans will need some kind of training or retraining before the end of this century, and meeting that need will demand real partnerships between employers and workers and between government and industry.

The construction trades have a history of outstanding training and development efforts. Job Corps, the Job Training Partnership Act have also had outstanding results. And I'll be looking to Secretary Dole, as she finds new solutions, to help those who aren't yet prepared for the jobs of the future because of skills gap and family pressures or a lack of supportive policies. Let me say she has in this my full support.

You know, back a thousand years ago, when Barbara and I left the East and moved out to west Texas -- Odessa-Midland area -- in the late forties, I learned something about building a business and meeting a payroll, and lived a few of the lessons that you're supposed to get out of books about supply and demand and risk and reward and profit and loss. But I also learned something about the trust that must exist between workers and managers. And our working men and women face real challenges now. And to meet them, our spirit has got to be one of cooperation, or motivation, if you will, for the common good. And there will be honest differences, and that's why we need a National Labor Relations Board of knowledgeable individuals whose neutrality and integrity are above reproach. And let me assure you: People I'm going to nominate meet these standards. My appointments will not be antilabor or antibusiness -- or, as I say, antibusiness. They will be based on fairplay.

We must keep the ball in play. Like Mark Twain said: ``It's not good sportsmanship to pick up lost golf balls while they're still rolling.'' [Laughter] I can't figure out who was the better philosopher, Yogi Berra or Mark Twain. You remember Yogi: ``Okay, now pair them off in threes.'' [Laughter]

Yesterday, I saluted the members and leaders of the American labor movement for hanging tough with Lech Walesa in Solidarnosc through the darkest days. Democratic forces in Poland have asked for the support of the West, and the West will respond. The Congress, the Polish-American community, the American labor movement, our allies, and international financial institutions all must work together if Polish democracy is to take root and to endure. Brighter days may be dawning in Eastern Europe, in Poland, in Central America. Wherever the free trade movement is threatened, so, too, is democracy and freedom itself. And I put this in here about Poland and the changes that are taking place because when I think of freedom and the American people's understanding of freedom, I do think of your great organizations -- you understand it.

One of the things I most admire when I talk with members of the building trades is this underlying sense of patriotism. Among you here today are many veterans -- World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. And you want to talk about freedom? No one appreciates it more than someone who's put their lives and limbs at risk in its defense, and many of you in this room have done just exactly that.

And, now, you may figure that politicians come and go. Well, the kind of people that are essential to a free and prosperous society with a competitive economy are people like yourselves. You bear the tools, the skills, and the will to build a better America and to keep this great nation free. I want this door at the White House to stay open. I want to work with you to advocate, to negotiate -- and to count on you, most importantly, as neighbors and friends who share the family values that I think are so vital to the survival and strength of the United States of America.

You know, speaking of Yogi Berra, again, someone once asked him if he was a fatalist. And he answered, ``No, I never collected postage stamps.'' [Laughter] We are the United States of America. We have no time for fatalism in the face of our good fortune. And like every American, I am grateful for all of the blessings that the builders of America have built as monuments to our labor and our freedom. I came over here to salute your leadership and to thank each and every one of the building trades members.

Thank you all. God bless you, and most of all, God bless the United States of America.

Note: The President spoke at 10:16 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Robert Georgine, president of the department, and Representative Thomas J. Ridge of Pennsylvania.

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