Public Papers - 1991 - November
Teleconference Remarks With the Fortune 500 Forum
Thank you, Jim, very, very much. Thank you for that welcome. And I must say the miracle of technology, I heard every word of all of that. Glad to be with you, and my greetings to Marshall Loeb, and my thanks to all for this opportunity to address the people who produce a good chunk of the Gross National Product. I'm doing this electronically, and then this afternoon General Scowcroft will be with you in person.
Bringing all of you together is a real service and proves once again why Fortune is one of America's leading economic indicators. In the super-charged competitive atmosphere you call home, there is never room for complacency. The world doesn't care much about yesterday's track records, and it wants to find the restless man or woman with the next new idea.
This year, a new element overshadows the normal quest for excellence. Times have been tough. And as one looks ahead, plans for the future, there's worry about the economy, and I'm concerned. People out there are hurting, and I want to help. But I want to be sure that any actions taken by the Federal Government are fundamentally sound.
Let me just take a minute to share a few thoughts about how we can get this economy growing. As you might know, our long-term growth strategy is founded on several important elements. First, we know we've got to get that deficit down. Now, we've got a budget agreement that puts the squeeze on the controllable part of Federal spending. I say controllable because so much of the budget is uncontrollable. It's legislated, and we're talking about many of the social programs, the means, Social Security and many things like that, interest on the debt. We've got to abide by that budget agreement.
The other day, a massive tax-cutting scheme was proposed, and long-term interest rates shot up immediately because the markets felt that the deficit would again spiral. We've got to keep inflation under control, as it is right now. The Federal Government must conduct itself in a way that will keep interest rates at low levels. We've got to keep American business competitive, and we're trying. Slash red tape. Move more aggressively against regulations wherever possible. Draw the line against more and more Government mandates, mandates that handcuff the American entrepreneur.
Most of the legislation that comes down at me has got a wonderful title on it, but it inflicts new mandates on the American people. And I've had to veto quite a few wonderfully titled pieces of legislation.
I also think that competitiveness means real tort reform, capping these sky-is-the-limit liability awards. And as a nation, we've got to make good on our commitment to quality education and job training to ensure a work force ready for the challenges that a new century will bring.
Finally, we've got to make certain that American business competes on an equal footing, and that means a government committed to the principles of free and fair trade. Let me just focus for one ``sec'' on this issue. You know firsthand that exports have become a driving force in our economy. Strong exports cushioned our economic downturn. Total gross exports last year accounted for virtually all of our growth. And I know that many of you, especially in the service sector and in agriculture, pay a price for being closed out of foreign markets. We're pushing hard in the Uruguay round to bring down trade barriers, to open more markets to American goods and services. Jim Baker took that free trade message to Japan just the other day. And a week ago tonight, I got to The Hague and delivered that same message to the European Community in The Hague.
Closer to home, we've won fast track authority for a North American free trade agreement linking the United States, Canada, and Mexico. And yesterday I met here at the White House with Argentina's great President, Carlos Menem. He's strong on our Enterprise for the Americas Initiative to transform this entire hemisphere into a free trade zone.
Now, these solid, forward-looking initiatives will pay dividends down the road in increased growth, new markets for American products, new jobs for American workers. I'm confident that our long-term strategy is on target, but there are steps that we've got to take right now; no more delay. And let's start with the overhaul of our antiquated bank system. Everyone of you knows how the problems in our banking system plague this economy. In March, I sent up to the Congress the first comprehensive bank reform since the 1930's: reforms that would bring American banks into the modern age. And even though the Congress is heading toward recess, we're going to keep pressing for these fundamental and important reforms. We can get them done within the next week.
The same goes for our other key proposals. For 3 years now, I have proposed a package of growth initiatives. Not just capital gains to which I remain committed, but incentives to encourage saving, like our family savings accounts, increased incentives for R D to help keep American business competitive, measures to help first-time buyers tap into their IRAs to buy that new home, enterprise zones to unleash the urban entrepreneur. Each one of these initiatives would give a sluggish economy a needed boost.
So far I've spoken about ways we're trying to turn things around. Now let me tell you what we won't do. The first rule of economic policy puts me in mind of the Hippocratic oath, ``do no harm.'' We're going to draw the line against the budget-busters. We're going to resist the quick-fix solutions out there. You and I know that when things are down there's a lot of political quick fixes that are proposed. And a lot of them are very, very attractive politically. They'd be attractive for me if I could embrace them. But from the folks who would have you believe they can reach in, flip a lever here, turn a knob there, and fine-tune a trillion economy, we're getting these programs. We've got to resist them.
Pressure is building as we enter 1992. But let me say right now, we cannot and we won't sacrifice long-term economic health for short-term political gain. I don't expect it to be easy -- understatement of the year -- but I am determined to find a way to work with the opposition, to reach out, to deal in good faith, and to do our job so that you can keep doing yours.
And one last comment. Yesterday the House overwhelmingly passed unemployment benefits legislation and sent it to the Senate. My message to the Senate is simple and direct: People are hurting out there. And if they're to receive a check before Thanksgiving, the Senate must get this bill to me today. I want to see this legislation, legislation that meets the criteria that I've laid out on my desk today. This new bill does not bust the budget agreement. We could have had one like it 3 months ago. But in any event, by standing up against bad legislation, I can now say to the American people, we can help these people that need help. And the rest of the people, the taxpayer, the guy that does have a job, is not going to be further burdened because of this by higher taxes or higher deficit.
Now, once again, my thanks to all of you. And now, Jim and Marshall, I'll be pleased to take a couple of questions.
Q. Mr. President, as citizens, as voters, we certainly often advise you as to what we would like you to do. You may answer this question as generally or as specifically as you would like. But what would you like to see American business leaders do in 1992?
The President. Well, I think that our system works best when independent enterprises take their cue from the market, not from Washington. So in 1992, what I want to see is simply this: I'd like to see you do what you do best.
First, you can build on your enormous successes. You know, during the eighties, the manufacturing sector of our economy retooled, literally revolutionized the way American companies do business. And you know the results. Manufacturing productivity shot up more than 35 percent. You honed the competitive edge that enabled our companies to capture new markets abroad and keep customers satisfied here at home. Exports of goods and services have exploded.
In real terms, exports are up more than 70 percent in the past 5 years. And as I promised just a few minutes ago, we'll keep working in Washington to create a good climate for growth. There are some tough economic statistics out there. But right now, inflation is under control. That's one stealth tax that people don't have to worry about.
Interest rates are lower now than they've been in years. Earlier this week, I called for lower credit card rates to take some of the sting out of consumer debt, and I'm pleased to see some banks responding. Frankly, I hope more will follow suit. Revive consumer confidence. Give this economy a little kick.
To improve the business climate, we'll keep working to drive down trade barriers abroad to pursue a sound fiscal policy at home. We'll do all we can to keep the playing field level. That means cutting through the red tape and needless regulations. You keep innovating, pioneering new products, setting new goals, and rising to the challenge. And then, if both of us do our jobs, 1992 will mark a new beginning for American business, and I really believe a new era of prosperity for the American people.
When you see the difficulties we're having now, it is clear to me that American business fundamentally is getting in good shape to be more competitive in the future, to be leaner, to be ready to fire on out there and compete with anybody around the world. And so I want to -- that's your goal. My goal is to see that the Government doesn't get in the way and where possible -- like hammering out trade agreements -- be helpful to you.
So, that's the way I see it. And some of that's gratuitous, but I am not pessimistic about where we're going. Yes, we've got some short-term problems here, and they're significant and the deficits have kind of added up here; interest rates were much higher. But we'll be coming out of this. The big debate amongst the economists is where we actually stand. But the third quarter had some growth to it, anemic and slow, now seems to be some kind of leveling off. But most of the hotshots are predicting growth, so I hope that's correct.
But at some point, if we do our job right and don't burden the economy with kind of bold, quick fixes that have appeal like enormous tax cuts that can't be paid for in any way, I think things will come around, and I think this economy will really move on out with the fundamentals in place for the best growth we've seen in years.
Q. Mr. President, I have a question for you. I know that the troubles of our public school systems worry you greatly and they also cause the business community great concern: eroding standards, high dropout rates, declining math and science proficiency. It worries us as concerned Americans, but as business people, these realities give us grave doubts about the American work force.
The question is twofold. What immediate steps do you plan to take? Secondly, what kind of advice and direction would you give American business people, both large and small corporations, who would like to get involved and would like to make a difference?
The President. Well, in America 2000, we set national education strategies. And then our very able Secretary Alexander and then his Deputy, David Kearns, who you know so well and to whom I'm deeply indebted, you've selected people to lead the effort. We want to do whatever we can here. I'm fortunate to have Lamar there. And I'm delighted that we managed to lure David Kearns from the upper reaches to come out of the highest level of corporate America to take on this fantastic new challenge in our classrooms.
We're serious, they are and I am, about igniting a revolution in American education. Business can do a great deal to help us along the road to America 2000, and they already are. We've got some great advisory groups formed from high-level business people, and they are pitching in, rolling up their sleeves, engaging. And that is important because Government alone isn't going to solve all this.
But look, first is consumers. You have what I would call a vested interest in the quality of American education. One element of America 2000 calls for bringing the corporate community into our classrooms. You can anchor our education reform in real world concerns. You can bring the needs of the market to our schools. Secondly, we need your help as reformers.
The business community volunteers millions of hours serving as mentors in our schools. I remember going to Rochester where Kodak has set a tremendous example in that community, doing just that: mentoring. You contribute billions of dollars supplying technology and supporting innovative ideas in education. Some of you are helping to fund a revolutionary experiment in education reform called ``The New American Schools Initiative'' -- met with many of the business leaders on that up at Camp David.
Education ought to learn a lesson from business. It's time we recognize competition and choice can be catalysts for real change. So let me extend, then, an open invitation to all of you: Bring your ideas to the table; help us break the mold. This is what we're talking about, reinvent American education to meet the needs of a new century.
And thirdly, we need your help as teachers. And I know I'm preaching to the choir on this one, because many of your companies are already leading the way. But I urge you all: Go into our schools; share your wisdom. Don't stop there. Bring the classroom into your companies. Help those workers who desperately want to learn how to read and write, master the basic tools of literacy. Help your employees learn new skills, better themselves for the good of their careers, and also, I think it's for the good of the companies.
If we made a mistake in the past, it's been leaving education to the professional bureaucracy, to the so-called ``experts,'' cutting off our schools from the outside community.
America 2000 breaks down those barriers. And I see the business community as an ally, a real agent for change. I salute all of you for what you're doing now. And then, of course, I want to challenge you to do more. And if you don't do that, I'll sic my wife, Barbara, on you. She's a bird dog on this education, and many of you there have helped enormously encourage her as she takes this message of family involvement and reading around the country.
So again, we're grateful, not just the family, but the administration, those and our leaders in the Department of Education for all you have done. Thanks again to all of you for letting me join you in Charleston in this wonderful way. Thanks a lot. Nice to be with you. Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 10:30 a.m. from Room 459 in the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, the President referred to Jim Hayes, publisher, and Marshall Loeb, managing editor of Fortune magazine.