Remarks to Chapter Presidents of the Catholic Golden Age Association

August 31, 1984

The President. Thank you very much, and it's a joy to have all of you here. It's very kind of you to understand the scheduling demands of a few weeks ago and to come back again and give me the chance to meet with you.

I was thinking of how I was going to begin my remarks here. I started thinking about my feelings on age, and they can be summed up by this greeting: ``Hi, kids.'' [Laughter]

Age is a state of mind; it's an attitude. The distinguished philosopher, Dr. Satchel Paige, who also played a little baseball, once summed this up with a question. He said, ``How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?'' [Laughter] Well, now, you think about that. I've already made my decision. I've been 39 for the last 34 years. [Laughter]

But I want to personally say hello to some remarkable people here on your board of directors. There's Margaret Mealey, whose work I've known of for some time. She's been honored by five former Presidents for her work with many organizations, including the USO and the National Council of Catholic Women. She is president of the Catholic Golden Age Association. She is a marvel, and we're proud to have her here today.

And Bishop Thomas Dolinay, of my home State of California, and we're very happy to have him here. He tends a small and humble flock in a wee little parish that extends from southern California to Alaska -- [laughter] -- so he thought coming all the way to Washington was just a little Sunday outing. [Laughter]

And I want to recognize, also, Tom Hinton, whose marvelous work through the years has made him known to and respected by every bishop and just about every priest in the United States.

And I want to mention, even though she couldn't be here, Sister Bernadette de Lourdes. All of you know her work. She's one of the reasons that some writers who muse on humanity conclude that there are saints among us.

Now, there are a number of things I want to talk about today, and I'm going to get to it. But since we'll be talking about Federal programs that have had some problems, I want to tell you a story that I heard about how such problems can happen anywhere.

Please don't think me irreligious, but the story goes that one day Saint Peter was happily walking around near the Pearly Gates, and he heard a funny little sound and saw a lot of little things scurrying about and realized that heaven had a new delegation of mice. And he leaned down and talked to them, and he said, ``How do you like it up here?'' And they said, ``Well, the accommodations are superb.'' But they had a complaint. They said heaven is so large, their legs were so short, that it was hard for them to get around and see everything. So, Saint Peter ordered that they all be given roller skates. And they put them on, and the next day they were darting all over, having a heck of a time there. And a week later, St. Peter went for his stroll -- and no mice. He looked around, and he couldn't find them. And all of a sudden he came upon a fat and happy old cat that was sleeping in the corner. And he said, ``Well, cat, how are you doing? How do you like heaven?'' And the cat said, ``It's paradise. It's clean, it's quiet, the weather's nice, and those meals on wheels -- delicious.'' [Laughter]

But, seriously, I think I have a sense of what concerns you and what your concerns are and what the realities are for older people in America. Those 85 and older are almost the fastest growing segment of our population. Back in 1920, the percentage of our population aged 65 or older was less than 5 percent. Now it's more than twice that, and growing. So things are getting better. And as the baby boom generation gets older -- and some of them are entering their forties -- the senior citizens of our country will be a huge group, and their interests will continue to be a matter of great concern to our society.

There are some problems I'm going to talk about that touch on your concerns. They're important public programs, but they've had their share of problems.

First, there is Social Security. No American need fear for the integrity and future of the Social Security system. As a result of the recommendations of our bipartisan commission which were enacted by the Congress, we rescued Social Security from imminent bankruptcy and assured its good health well into the next century.

We've also proposed something that will benefit the millions of people who depend so much on Social Security now. Under present law, as you know, Social Security beneficiaries would receive no cost of living increase next January if the cost of living adjustment is below 3 percent. Well, given the progress that we've made in fighting inflation, that could be a real possibility. But we should and we can give Social Security recipients the full cost of living increase in a timely manner, because there has been a delay in their receiving a Social Security increase that was due and that was a part of our settlement to make Social Security fiscally responsible. So, I have asked the Congress, to amend the law to assure that this is done, and that in January, 3 percent or no 3 percent, there will be such a cost of living adjustment.

Second is Medicare. All our actions have been aimed at making it stronger and assuring its continuation. Millions of Americans depend on the Medicare program to help meet their health care costs, and while it's not in the same immediate trouble that Social Security was, we must ensure the long term solvency of the Medicare program. And I'm confident that we can find the right solutions in a bipartisan manner, just as we did with Social Security.

We've already taken the first step by establishing a new method of paying hospitals under the Medicare program. Ever since Medicare was established in the mid-1960's, hospitals were paid pretty much whatever they spent. Giving hospitals a blank check resulted in costs that were rising out of control. Now, under a new program, hospitals are paid set rates, and if the hospital can provide care for less, they get to keep the savings. Now, this has successfully reduced cost increases while ensuring that the quality of the hospital care stays high. We're monitoring this new prospective pay system closely to continue to assure that quality is preserved while health cost inflation continues to go down.

Third -- doctors and the high cost of medical care. It's terribly tough when you're tight on funds and get sick. It's tough when you're not tight on funds, but you have an ongoing ailment and you're hit with a lot of bills.

Now, this past July, we established a 15-month freeze on doctors' charges to Medicare patients. And believe me, we're trying both to control costs for older Americans and the Government. And we're doing everything we can to try to ensure that medical care will be both available and affordable for all the senior citizens in our country.

There's a whole host of other related issues that have to do with the quality of life for older Americans -- crime for one. Our administration is making extra efforts to help local law enforcement help those agencies combat street crime as a great national menace. In the past 2 years, we have actually seen a drop in the overall national crime rate. In fact, for 3 years in a row, there has been a drop, and that's the first time this has ever happened in our history. And I assure you that we intend to continue our efforts in a second administration.

We believe, as you do, that decent people have the right to walk the streets at night or take a stroll through a park. We're a little tired of the fact that, with all the locks on our doors and such, it's the law-abiding part of our society that is really locked up. We're tired of it, as you are, and we're trying to do something about it.

We live in a time of great challenges. That doesn't worry me, because all of us have seen again and again that America is very good at meeting challenges. One of the great challenges of our time is to improve the quality of life for all Americans, and especially our older citizens. The folks who've paid their dues, who kept the world going during the tough years of the thirties and the Depression, and the forties and the war, and the fifties and sixties and seventies and beyond -- all of you have earned the right to sit back and take it easy and let the world take care of itself. But you don't. You're in there swinging. You're contributing to things that no one else could. You're our most valuable asset, and I'm proud to be one of you. I'm proud we're still in there slugging together.

We have every right to be proud of our generation. You know, there are only a few generations in all of history that have ever had to preside over a great transition period, and ours was one of those. We've lived through four wars and a Great Depression that toppled governments and brought misery such as younger generations have never seen.

We're one of those rare generations, as I say, that saw in a lifetime -- in our lifetime -- a great transition. Our young people today are going to see astounding things, but they'll never see quite the great change that we saw. We literally went from the horse and buggy to walking on the Moon.

Back in those riotous days of the sixties, when I was a Governor out in California, a group of students from our University of California campuses demanded a meeting with me. And they kind of had a chip on their shoulder, but I was pleased to meet with them, because in those days if I went near a campus I could start a riot. And their spokesman -- when they came in, they slouched in, in the usual uniform of that day -- and their spokesman, resplendent in T-shirt and barefoot, he opened by telling me it was impossible for me to understand them. He said, ``Your generation doesn't understand its own sons and daughters.''

I tried to pass it off, I said, ``Well, we know more about being young than we do about being old.'' [Laughter] And he said, ``No, I'm serious.'' He said, ``You didn't grow up in a world of instant electronics, of computers figuring out problems that once took months and even years. You didn't have nuclear power and jet travel and journeys out into space'' -- and so forth.

Well, you know, usually in a thing of that kind, you don't think of the answer until the whole meeting is over and you're home. But he talked just long enough for the Lord to bless me with the answer, and when he paused for breath, I said, ``You're right. Our generation didn't have those things when we were your age. We invented them.'' It sure did change the tone of the discussion. [Laughter]

Well, all of us care about older Americans and their financial security -- and I could say ``ours'' instead of theirs. We see the younger people growing up these days, and they'll be living in a world we can't even envision. And we care about those young people, and we care about our country and its future.

And that's why I'm asking that we go forward to meet a challenge together. To build a future -- or a world in which the future generations of America can be free from fears about economic security, free from fears that when they're old they'll be superfluous people, free from fears that they won't have a place in the work force if they want one, that they'll be lonely or that they'll be forgotten. We have to ensure that the aged get the respect they deserve, that they have opportunities to express their creativity, that there are challenges for all of us.

And I ask all of you, particularly, to bring your wisdom and your experience and your creativity to those questions, so that together we can help those young ones on their way up. Remember, Cicero said, ``If it wasn't for the elderly correcting the mistakes of the young, there would be no state.''

And now, thank you. It's an honor to meet with you here today, and God bless you all.

Miss Mealey. Mr. President, on August 15th of this year we met at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the feast of Our Lady of the Assumption, to whom Catholic Golden Age is dedicated, to participate with thousands of our members in a eucharistic celebration to light symbolic candles and to pray for peace. This ceremony was duplicated throughout the country by thousands of members and their friends, from Alaska to Florida, from New York to California.

We know, Mr. President, it was not possible for you to be with us on that occasion. But we did want you to have a copy of the prayer which was led by Archbishop Pio Laghi and said by all those present. We know your dedication to peace is our dedication to peace. So, we take great pride in presenting this to you.

And, Mr. Reagan, we pray that God will continue to bless you and Mrs. Reagan, and we thank you sincerely for receiving us today.

The President. Thank you all very much. Now I'll get back to the office and go to work. [Laughter ] Well, thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. The association is a national nonprofit organization representing the interests of Catholic and non-Catholic senior citizens.