Public Papers

Teleconference Remarks to the 1991 Congress of Cities


The President. Thank you, Commissioner Hood. And I understand you're the incoming president of the wonderful organization, the National League of Cities. Thank you for inviting me to be with you. To President Sidney Barthelemy, the Mayor of one of my favorite cities, New Orleans, welcome to you, sir. I look forward to your help, most of all, officials who have enriched our cities and helped our cities enrich America; I greet all of you.

I am very pleased that Lamar Alexander was able to address you this morning. A former Governor, a great Secretary of Education; he's doing a great job. And we are on to something with this America 2000. And I hope when he finished that you had a feel for this marvelous program.

Our mayors are doing a great job in helping make American education number one. I was hoping today to be with you in person, but at least I can say America has produced two Presidents in a row who have made it to the big screen. This is a good way to do it if you can't be there in person.

It's an honor to join this year's NLC Annual Congress of Cities, even if it is by video hookup, and to salute you soldiers on the front lines. You man the front lines of our assault on falling scores and failing grades in education, our war on drugs, our defense of the American family, and our battle against crime. And you know why we've got to crusade to protect American principles and work to solve America's problems.

As the elected officials out there hearing the needs of day-to-day, ordinary people, you understand those problems. And you know them not from a bureaucrat's safe distance but from the hot seat of an elected official whose neighbors call to complain about roads and taxes and the police. You know. You name it.

Many people wonder how a President can know what goes on outside Washington, especially for families struggling to make ends meet. Well, I have read the letters of people feeling the pinch of a tough economy. As a matter of fact, I've traveled to 48 States since becoming President, talking and meeting people and listening and, yes, learning at every stop. And I've listened to the guidance and advice of leaders, many of whom are right there in that room.

And when I deliver my State of the Union Address in a few weeks, I'm going to ask the Congress to lay aside partisan interest just long enough to focus on America's interest and to enact a commonsense series of economic growth measures. Also, because each additional billion dollars in manufactured goods and trade means another 20,000 American jobs, I'm going to continue fighting to crack open foreign markets to create domestic jobs. And that's the message I'm going to be taking with me on my upcoming trip to Asia. We go down to Australia, Singapore, Korea, and Japan.

In the meantime, I will make sure that our agencies do everything they can to help the people, from getting those unemployment checks out to easing the credit crunch. Already, we've taken steps to help those in need, speeding up a number of Government payments that will put .7 billion into the economy that wouldn't have been there during the first and second quarters of the fiscal year.

And I'm especially proud of the transportation bill which I'll be signing in just a few days that will keep our traffic on the move and our economy on the rise, building roads and fixing bridges and creating jobs.

And still, it isn't enough. We have to build on these beginnings. So I hope our other initiatives are also helping you. For example, our administration has boosted State and local law enforcement funding to 5 million. That's in addition to the 0 million in cash and property seized last year from drug dealers through what we call the Asset Forfeiture program. Overall, Federal aid to States and localities to fight drugs has grown under this administration to nearly billion a year. I think the total spending I jotted down here is .7 billion.

Our Healthy Start program to cut infant mortality got a big boost this year, from million to million. And that's also true for AIDS research and treatment. Under the Ryan White Act, 0 million in AIDS prevention in fiscal '92 goes directly to cities. And I also ask your support of something which can help every city, enterprise zones to unleash a new generation of entrepreneurs to attract new business to those areas.

President Kennedy once said, ``We will neglect our cities at our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the Nation.'' I do not intend to neglect our cities, nor do I intend to burden them with Washington's version of help: Taxes, rules, regulations, and no money. We've learned the wisdom of keeping government closest to the people. My administration wants to give local power and local responsibility to local officials. We want to free you to do what you do best.

I do want to do my part. To do so, I need your counsel and your wisdom. So let's work together to find new solutions to old problems. Only then can we prepare our cities and our country for the new American century ahead.

It is great to be with you all. I'd be glad to take a couple of questions. But thank you for what you've done. Thank you for what you are doing. And at this special time of year, God bless you all. I just wish that each and every one of you could have been at the White House yesterday as we welcomed home those five hostages. I can only say that Barbara and I count our blessings for family every day of the year. And this was a most-moving occasion. And then we took them out to light the Nation's Christmas tree -- we modestly call it -- across from the White House. And I flipped the electric switch and nothing happened. [Laughter]

But in any event, it was a great and wonderful, moving day for our whole country. And I wish each of you leaders could have been with us in the White House.

And now I'll be glad, Commissioner, to take any questions.

War on Drugs

Q. Mr. President, more than 20 years ago, former President Richard Nixon declared a Federal war on drugs. Three years ago, you announced a similar war. Yet today the problem of drugs and drug-related violence on our streets is just as pervasive as ever. In fact, murders are at record levels. Mr. President, we have a very enthusiastic audience here -- [laughter] -- I wish you were here to see how wonderful this audience is and how concerned this audience is. However, over the last 20-year period, the Federal Government has been unwilling to spend one single dime and send it directly to those of us who are on the front lines that you mentioned.

In the Gulf war you went to the front lines to meet with the troops to ensure that they had the necessary tools and support in order to win. Can we count on you, Mr. President, in your new budget and legislative agenda to provide for direct assistance to cities and towns?

The President. Well, let me simply say that from an overall standpoint, fighting the Nation's drug war from an overall standpoint, Federal funding is up by 80 percent since I've become President, 80 percent, to .7 billion. I think it is .7 billion. And nearly billion will go to State and local governments. I am familiar with the age-old argument as to whether the Governors get it or whether the mayors get it. And I've been around the political track long enough to be aware of it. In our program, we are trying to recognize this and trying to get the job done.

Let me just say, though, you had a very pessimistic assessment of where the matter stands. And there's plenty of reason to be pessimistic, but there's also some reason to be somewhat optimistic. Drug use amongst the young people have gone off -- this awful cocaine amongst young people is down over the last 2 years by something like 11 percent. The war isn't won, but progress is being made.

We're working with a media campaign, all private, they're spending million a day on advertising which gets right into your communities, trying to educate people against the use of drugs. So in addition to the Government money, that means the taxpayers' money, in addition to the Government money, there is a lot going on. And, frankly, if you canvassed that hall, though everyone could use more funds for fighting drugs, I think that you'd find that a lot of people out there in what we call the volunteer sector are doing an awful lot. We've honored a lot of them here at the White House, and I am terribly impressed by how community action is making an enormous contribution to the fight against drugs.

But yes, in our budget I think you'll see the amount of money I said for State, for local governments, and I also think that you'll see what I would think is pretty full funding, in tough financial times I might add, for the fight against drugs.

Let me give you another side of it that I think is important. We're doing better on the interdiction side as well. Much better on that. And then you mentioned the crime problem. I would like to enlist the support of everybody in that room. You are on the front line. You are on the cutting edge, and I'd like to enlist your support for a tough, a meaningful, tough anti-crime bill. We've been trying to get that through Congress for a long, long time. And again, let's put the politics aside and let's give the support that we need to the police officers that are out there on the beat.

But thank you. It was a good question.

Q. Thank you for taking time to be with us, and thank you for the tree you planted 2 years ago in memory of Ryan White. It's still standing in downtown Indianapolis.

The President. Is it growing, though? [Laughter]

Block Grant Program for Cities

Q. There's a strong feeling here, Mr. President, that when the cities hurt, America hurts, and when the cities are healthy, America is healthy. Many central cities and small towns are facing severe fiscal distress today. Their tax bases have eroded while poverty, crime, and health care needs and demands have accelerated.

We believe the idea of direct assistance to cities and towns from the Federal Government has merit. And the question I would ask you, sir, is: Can we prevail upon you to consider a proposal this year to put together a package of Federal relief for unfunded mandates and targeted fiscal assistance to cities and towns, and would you be willing to meet with a group of local officials to discuss this subject?

The President. That was two questions. Bill, you know, and I don't know whether you helped formulate the general idea of an enormous block grant proposal that we have; it's about finished. What we've tried to do on this block grant proposal -- I believe it's in the -billion range -- was to work it out in a way that it will get support in the Congress. And we've tried to take into consideration some of the congressional concerns without making this block grant into some other mandated program by having a lot of strings attached.

So, we are finalizing now -- and it will be ready in time to send up as soon as Congress goes back -- a substantial block grant program that will go out there without strings attached, and I believe it will get passed. So, I'm very interested in this. It's taken a long time to get the legislation drafted in a way to answer some of the -- well, I'd put it this way -- understandable concerns in the Congress. But we're going to be pushing it, and it's going to be a part of our overall economic package.

Inasmuch as you made the request -- and I never say no to Hudnut, that's my motto -- I think it would be useful to sit down with you and a handful of others that you might bring into the White House to talk about these problems.

I wasn't just, as we say, ``blowing smoke'' when I made my remarks. We are in touch with mayors. We had the mayor of New York City down here just the other day. Wasn't heralded as a great public relations event, but I learned from that. A long talk with other mayors as we go along. But bring them in here. We may have to wait until after the first because we're going off, as you know, coming into this marvelous Christmas season, and we might all need a little bit of rest. But I'd like to do it, and you can consider this a formal acceptance of what I thought was a relatively formalized request.

Q. Mr. President, and we accept that, and we will be there to visit with you. And we appreciate the time that you have given us this morning. We want to work with you. We're counting on you, as you're counting on us, and let me, on behalf of all of the delegates here this morning, not only once again thank you, but wish you and Mrs. Bush a very happy holiday.

The President. Well, same to all of you. And let me end by making one additional comment. These are tough times, and there's a lot of people at work and there's an unsatisfactory number of people out of work. A lot of people are worried. Their confidence is not there. And they worry about tomorrow, even though they have a job today. And I understand all that, and we're going to try in the State of the Union Message to make a proposal that won't make matters worse out of good intentions but will make them better and come forward with a strong program there. I believe we'll have that. I hope it will have the support, enthusiastic support across party lines, not only in the Congress but out there.

But let me just say this at the end of this year, inasmuch as you were gracious and really kind enough to wish Barbara and me a merry Christmas. You know, we have a lot to be grateful for in this wonderful country of ours. I touched on the hostage matter. This morning, I had a long conversation with Boris Yeltsin over in Moscow, and there's great and interesting change going on there.

But the underpinning of that change is freedom, and it is democracy, and it is reform. And you look around at the fact that in this very day in Washington Arabs are talking to Israelis, something that might not have happened. You look abroad and you see the newfound credibility of the United States as a result of what your sons and daughters did in Desert Storm. The United States can use that credibility now to get into these foreign markets and create jobs and our voice is more credible around the world.

So, I cannot neglect my responsibilities for world peace, for managing on behalf of the only superpower in the world that other countries look to not just for that but because of our values. I'm not going to forsake those responsibilities. But I am going to do what is necessary and stay involved with you at that level that I know so well, in order to try to help alleviate the concerns that I mentioned in the very beginning that the American people have.

Having said that, we have a lot to be grateful for in the United States of America. And thank you for your greetings, and Barbara will appreciate it. And I hope that you and all your families have the best Christmas ever and a wonderfully prosperous, exciting, forward-moving 1992. Good luck to each and every one of you. And thank you for letting me come in this way.

Note: The President spoke at 1:17 p.m. from Room 459 of the Old Executive Office Building to the annual Congress of Cities, sponsored by the National League of Cities, meeting in Las Vegas, NV. In his remarks, he referred to Glenda E. Hood, first vice president of the National League of Cities; Ryan White, a teenager who died of AIDS in 1990; and Thomas Hudnut, mayor of Indianapolis. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.