Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Elected Republican Women Officials

March 12, 1984

Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. And it's good to see so many old friends and westerners to boot, and have the opportunity to make new ones -- friends that is -- not westerners. [Laughter]

And, of course, I have been introduced by one of my two favorite women. And she's explained to you why there's only one of them here. You've all heard that politics make strange bedfellows. Well, I found out that kind of works in reverse also -- [laughter] -- so, she's in Houston, and I'm in Washington.\1\ (FOOTNOTE)

(FOOTNOTE) \1\The President was introduced by his daughter Maureen. Mrs. Reagan was attending a luncheon hosted by the Houston Magic Circle Women's Republican Club in Texas.

Well, I want to thank all of you for what you're doing to advance the ideals and the goals that unite us. We've journeyed far, I think, in these 3 years. But it never would have happened without the drive and the energy and determination of officeholders in State capitals and communities all across America. America's future looks bright, and you've made the difference.

Our economic recovery is bringing new hope and opportunity to our people. Inflation has plummeted by two-thirds to about 4 percent. The prime rate is almost half what it was when we took office. Three words describe our recovery program: Jobs, jobs, and jobs.

And last month alone, 700,000 more Americans were found on the payrolls. And we've had the steepest drop in the unemployment rate in over three decades. And I meant the 700,000 in just that 1 month -- from the previous month. The overall unemployment rate is down to 7.7 percent, and among adult women, the rate has dropped from 9.1 to 6.9. Since the beginning of the dramatic upturn 15 months ago, nearly 5 million -- 4.9 million -- people have gone back to work in the United States. And more people are working than ever before in our history. But we can't rest until every American who wants a job has found one.

All the leading economic indicators suggest that our economic growth will continue. The failed policies of higher taxes, bigger government, soaring inflation, and runaway spending haven't disappeared. In fact, they're lurking not far away, as anyone who had time to watch the debate last night would know. Right now those failed policies are on the stump -- just a few hundred miles south of here.

The Federal Government and the budget must be brought under better control. Deficits remain a problem, but the biggest problem is the size of the government's claim on our economy. I'm dead serious about negotiating a downpayment on the deficit. But common sense, not partisan politics, should govern the deliberations so that we can protect the interests of the American people.

The starting point is to cut out the waste in spending -- and believe me, we've discovered there's still a lot of waste in spending. Personal tax rates have been reduced. We passed an historic tax reform indexing so that government will no longer be able to use inflation to profit at your expense. But those in government who have a stake in bigger government don't want you to have indexing. The billions in tax and spending increases that these spenders are pushing would not reduce the deficit; they just reduce the recovery.

We want to go forward, not backward. And America will go forward if we simplify the tax system and reduce tax rates further. Republicans want to build an opportunity society. We can all be proud that we're putting America's future back in the hands of the people and proud that we're working to strengthen our social institutions, the bedrock of our society and our freedom.

But important challenges remain. We can start by letting our children have the right to call on a little help from God at the start of the school day, if they so choose. When 80 percent of the people want voluntary prayer back in our schools, I think it takes a lot of gall to tell them they can't have it. Well, if enough of you make your voices heard, we can restore the right of voluntary prayer in the classroom.

Education is another area where we're the ones with the courage to call for basic reform. Excellence in education means getting back to fundamentals, working from the bottom up, providing local leadership, and thinking smarter. And I think our support for basic reform is starting to pay off. When our administration took office, only a handful of States had task forces on education. Today they all do. And reforms are being adopted in academic standards, discipline, curriculum, and basic values. For example, 44 States are increasing graduation requirements; 42 are studying improvements in teacher certification; and 33 are considering or have enacted legislation for master teacher type programs. So, it's up to us to make sure the momentum continues.

In connection with this whole thing on education, I just had a chore this morning that was most pleasant. You know, this partnership thing that is sweeping the Nation of various business firms or organizations or groups and labor unions -- and even some of our professional athletic teams have formed partnerships with local schools, and they help and are going to field trips and going there to lecture, whatever they can do to help. Well, the White House adopted a school here in town -- Congress Heights School -- and I was out there this morning and was taking questions from the students there and meeting them.

The most humbling experience was in the kindergarten -- [laughter] -- the kindergarten computer class. [Laughter] I don't know the first thing about those things, but those 5-year-olds did. There they all sat in front of their computers. Finally, the one I was sitting beside said, ``Well go ahead and push the button.'' I was scared to death. [Laughter]

But a third important challenge is to restore the proper balance to our criminal justice system. We came to Washington determined to crack down on habitual criminals, organized crime, and the drugpushers. And in 1982 crime went down 4.3 percent, and that's the biggest decline in 10 years. But too many law-abiding citizens are still being harmed or killed while dangerous criminals get off scot-free.

The long overdue reform that we need must begin with passage of our comprehensive crime control act, the most important anticrime legislation that's been introduced in more than a decade. It was approved by the Senate last month. You can imagine why -- who has the majority there. But now the bill is being bottled up in committee by Democrats in the House. And I'm very disappointed in their attitude. When it comes to putting criminals behind bars, when it comes to keeping the American people safe, there should be no Republicans or Democrats -- just Americans. Now, if they continue to refuse, then you and I not only have the right; we have the obligation to hold their feet to the fire.

And just as we're strengthening the basic values which made America great, there's a new sense of purpose and direction to America's foreign policy. Thirty-seven years ago today, President Truman addressed the American people before a joint session of the Congress. In the closing of that speech, which later would be known as the Truman Doctrine, he said, ``The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms. If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world -- and we shall surely endanger the welfare of this nation.''

Well, back in the late seventies, some had lost sight of Mr. Truman's wisdom. We had an uncomfortable feeling that we'd lost respect overseas, and we no longer trusted our leaders to defend peace and freedom. Today the world knows once more that America can be counted on to defend freedom, peace, and human dignity. And, believe me, that makes the world safer for all of us.

Now let me say a few words about El Salvador, a new democracy that is struggling to protect itself from extremists of the right and the left. El Salvador will be holding elections at the end of this month. But if they're to succeed, they must take place in a climate of security. We know that Cuban-supported guerrillas plan to disrupt these elections, just as they tried and failed to do that 2 years ago when they held their first elections. But the Salvadorans are out of U.S. military aid assistance funds, because my original request was not fully funded by the Congress. El Salvador -- their army, trying to protect them against these guerrillas, will soon be out of ammunition, supplies, and funds for U.S. training support. As a matter of fact, shipments of medical supplies have already had to be stopped. Without these supplies and training support, El Salvador cannot hold secure elections or defend their country.

Therefore, I've asked the Congress to approve an emergency, short-term military assistance package to tide the situation over until the Congress acts on the recommendations of the Bipartisan Commission on Central America. This package is urgently needed, and I urge its rapid approval by the Congress. Democracy in El Salvador depends on it.

And to those who maybe question whether they really are achieving anything in democracy: Two years ago, observers from our Congress went down to observe those elections. Eighty-three percent of the people turned out. We haven't turned out 83 percent of the people for an election in years and years. And they actually saw -- some of these Congressmen -- and talked with a woman who was standing in the lines for hours waiting to vote, waiting her turn, had been shot, wounded by the guerrillas, and refused to leave the lines for medical attention until she had been allowed to vote. This is what we're trying to defend down there and protect, and I think they deserve our help after 400 years.

Two months ago that Bipartisan Commission submitted its report. They called on our government to substantially increase economic and military assistance to Central America. Between two-thirds and three-fourths of that assistance will be economic and social, not military. And although the region is vital to our national interest and the situation increasingly urgent, the Congress has not acted.

As a nation, we can't afford to let this issue drag on while people die in Central America. We can't afford to let political partisanship jeopardize our security interests or undercut the opportunity for El Salvador to build its democracy. The Bipartisan Commission gave us a formula which should be acceptable to all. So, let's use it and get on with it.

When historians write about these years, they'll find that very skilled and talented women played a key role in putting America back on her feet. And here in Washington we're calling on the talents of women and the leadership of women in a big way. For the first time in history, three women are on the Cabinet at the same time -- U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler, Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole. Ambassador Faith Whittlesey has brought her talent and skill to the White House staff. And all told, more than 1,400 women hold policymaking posts in our administration. And a number of them are here in the room today with you. We couldn't get all 1,400 in -- [laughter] -- but several others that are in here -- and I won't try to name all of them. But I can just tell you, believe me, they are serving, and we are dependent on them. And I say that with one -- my own ``girl Friday'' is sitting over there -- Kathy Osborne -- and she keeps me on track. [Laughter]

Well, one of my proudest days was when Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman Justice in the history of the Supreme Court. That's the tradition of the Grand Old Party.

Even before women -- maybe you don't know this -- had a right to vote, our party became the first party to elect a woman to the United States Congress. And today the only women in the Senate are Nancy Kassebaum and Paula Hawkins -- Republicans. And, of course, we have nine outstanding Republican Congresswomen, including Barbara Vucanovich, who is here with us today. Now, don't you think it's about time that we give them some more company? [Applause]

But just as important, thousands of able Republican women like you are serving in public offices all across America. We want to see the numbers grow. We want to see them grow here in Washington for sure -- and here in Washington and in every American community. Someday, and I hope it's sooner rather than later, a woman's going to have my job. Our job is to make sure she's a Republican.

We have good reason to approach this election year in high spirits. We can be confident that the American people share our values. But we cannot afford to rest; there's too much that remains to be done. So, with your help, with your frontier spirit, we'll get the job done. And we'll make 1984 a great year for the Republican Party.

Now, I thank you all for being here, and God bless you all. And now the words you've been waiting to hear -- let's have dessert. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 12:47 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.