Public Papers

Remarks to the National Grocers Association in Orlando, Florida


Thank you for that warm welcome, and please be seated. And Tom, thank you for that wonderful introduction. Thanks also to Bill Confer, your chairman. And before we get started, I don't know where they are, but I'd like to recognize two outstanding Congressmen from this area, Bill McCollum and Cliff Stearns, and also a former Congressman who is actively involved with me, Bill Grant, of Florida. You have three of the best right here with you today.

And it's a great pleasure, and I really mean that, to be here with this enthusiastic group. I originally had planned to be at your dinner last night. But then I found out it was called the Asparagus Club Banquet. [Laughter] Thought I'd better not take a chance. And you know why, dangerously close. [Laughter] Okay, Barbara won the broccoli war. I said what I thought, and she got out and received all these broccoli growers. And sales shot up about 500 percent. [Laughter]

You all know, I think, of my love for sports. And this being an election year, my competitive juices are flowing more than ever. And so, today I'm making an announcement that many of you have been expecting for a long time. I'm officially declaring my entry into your best bagger contest. Just one question: Paper or plastic? [Laughter]

I'll always remember, and Tom referred to it, but from a personal standpoint I'll always remember that warm reception that you all, the NGA, gave me when I addressed that 1985 convention. It was in New Orleans. You gave me a good education about your industry then, and I remember it still. A typical NGA member is a family-run business. Many of you carry on legacies built through the vision and sacrifice of a grandmother or a grandfather. Just met one of your directors. She was a third generation in the grocery business, perhaps an immigrant to this country; some were. You work on the thinnest of profit margins. You challenge one another with bracing competition that clearly benefits our consumers like no others in the world. And today as always, your success as community grocers depends not just on the bottom line but on the old-fashioned virtues of being a good neighbor.

Since I last met you all in 1985, the world has changed. We've got a lot to be grateful for. We won the cold war. We led a coalition in the Gulf to crush Saddam Hussein's aggression in Kuwait. We've created a world with the prospects of unprecedented prosperity and peace. But we've also run into some hard times here. Our economy has slowed down. We must get it fired up again.

The professional pessimists tell us America has become weak and disabled, that our economy has fallen and it can't get up. Well, that's just plain bunk. It's not true. And I'm going to tell you what we can do about it. Day by day and step by step, we're going to get ourselves moving, and we'll do it as Americans always have. We'll combine our common sense, our work ethic, and our determination with progrowth policies. With these, we'll carry the entire world into the next American century. You can bet on it.

You don't have to be some rocket scientist to understand how. You stick with the basics. And I proposed a commonsense comprehensive action plan last week in my State of the Union Address. It gets investment going, because you can't build new businesses and create new jobs without new investment. It strengthens the industries that historically have led us into recoveries, especially real estate and housing. It hacks away obstacles to growth. It cuts the Federal deficit by holding back spending. Government is far too big, and it spends too much. And I am going to keep it within its limits of this budget agreement that is in place right now.

Ask yourselves the question: How free are we, really, when the Government gobbles up 25 percent of our GNP? I'm demanding, I need your support, that Congress get serious about this. One thing, I've listed 246 programs that I want cut out this year, 246. Each one has a protector; each one has a noble title. None of them is essential to the well-being of the United States of America. And I want something else. I want that line-item veto so I can enforce real spending disciplines. Forty-three Governors have it.

We've got to get Washington back to common sense. To do that, I really mean this, I need your help. I know you can deliver. You know your neighbors; they know you. The grocery business grows when your neighborhood grows, when the Nation's economy grows. I've asked Congress to enact some laws that will create jobs by getting our economy growing again. And I've set a deadline, March 20th. I ask you to circle that Friday on your calendar. Remember this deadline. Congress needs to take a few simple steps to create good American jobs, now.

The Capitol Hill hearings on my program begin today. But I must say, too often when I send progrowth proposals to Congress, all the public hears is sloganeering about fairness. This twists a good concept into a weapon of envy and divisiveness, desire to divide America along class lines. I don't look at it that way. Here's what fairness means to me: It means if you want to work, you can get a job. It means if you have a good idea, you'll get a chance to test it, or if you build a business, you don't lose your earnings to excessive taxes or overregulation. That's what fairness means to me. Above all, the most important test of fairness for my plan is that it will work for all Americans. It will create jobs.

And now, here's what I want by March 20th. And I set that date because I do believe we have a window in which we get something done, even though this is going to be a very controversial and difficult national election year. Here's what I want: First, incentives to make productive investments. These involve a 15-percent investment tax allowance and needed changes to the alternative minimum tax. Now, these will encourage business to invest in equipment and become more productive. I just took a tour through the exhibits here, amazed by some of the technology. These proposals will stimulate that kind of investment and will help individuals invest in high technology or in whatever machinery is needed.

Second, we need incentives to build and to buy real estate: a change in the passive-loss rules for active real estate developers. We need penalty-free withdrawals from IRA's for first-time homebuyers and a ,000 tax credit for the first purchase of a home. Housing economists predict that my plan will mean an extra 200,000 homes built and 415,000 new construction jobs to build them. Real estate and housing, with this stimulus, will lead our way into active recovery.

And third, incentives to succeed: Cut the capital gains tax. This tax hurts anyone who has made a sensible investment in a home, a business, or a farm. None of our key competitors taxes gains at high rates, world global competitors. Let's stop penalizing savings and investment. Let's stop punishing excellence. And yes, let's talk about fairness. Lower capital gains mean more investment, and more investment means more jobs. So, let's get that capital gains tax cut, now.

Three measures, three pieces of common sense, three things Congress should do by March 20th. I know that Congress will listen to you; you come right from the grassroots. And I'm counting on your help. In the meantime, I've initiated some reforms that will get the economy moving without having to wait for Congress to act. I've imposed a 90-day freeze on Federal regulations that could hinder economic growth. And during that period, all Departments and Agencies will review regulations, old and new, and when possible, stop the ones that will hurt growth and speed up those that will help growth.

I see from your convention schedule that you have a workshop entitled ``The Regulators Are Back.'' No wonder. You can't get through a day without having to worry about what some regulator is going to do to you through some thoughtless regulation. Regulations may have stated aims as wholesome as Mom and the apple pie. But you know better than anyone that when regulators carry that regulation too far, there won't be any apple pie for Mom to buy.

I ran a council on deregulation for 8 years as Vice President. And I'm here to assure you, we've not lost the spirit of deregulation. I want you to be able to spend your time working on what you can do for your customers rather than fretting about what some regulator might do to you.

And I'm also fighting hard against this epidemic of lawsuits. The costs and the delays in our legal system are a hidden tax on every single American consumer, on every business transaction in America. And that's why I'm sending to Congress today a reform bill, the ``Access to Justice Act of 1992.'' My reform proposal will give Americans cheaper and easier alternatives to trial. And my plan will halt needless lawsuits by making changes in the way some attorney's fees are awarded. Let's stop America's love affair with the lawsuit. If we're as good at rewarding success as we are at suing each other, we'd be way ahead of the rest of the world. I might say parenthetically, health care costs would be an awful lot lower if we didn't have a lot of frivolous lawsuits going after these doctors for malpractice.

One of the great lessons of our times is this: Freedom and cooperation work; big Government doesn't. And after 70 years, the new leaders in Moscow recognize that total Government regulation produces only one thing: total failure. And now, the Russians -- I had a fascinating visit with Boris Yeltsin up at Camp David on Saturday -- the Russians want to try something different, like grocery stores with groceries on the shelves. [Laughter] This man's put into some tough reforms there. Got to stay with him. Got to help him make them work.

Isn't it ironic, at the exact moment the world is turning to our values of more economic freedom and competition, some in the United States Congress want to go just the opposite way. And here's an example of the trouble brewing in Congress: That's the so-called FDA enforcement bill. I'm sure those of you who sell your own private-label groceries aren't exactly thrilled by the prospect of more legal and accounting and paperwork burdens. But that's just what some in the Congress want to do. Well, let me tell you in no uncertain terms: The time for overregulation is over. And if they send me any more legislation with excessive regulation in it, I'm going to veto it and send it back. It's going right back up there.

Again, the Congress can help get the economy moving if it will just do the right thing. Last week one Member of Congress, a Democrat, said it might be smart politics for the Democrats to meet the deadline and pass my plan intact. I can't say what their motives may be, but I know one thing, my plan will help the American people. So let me take the heat. I know that my program will get the economy moving again. And again, urge the Congress to pass it intact by March 20th.

March 20 isn't a moment too soon to enact this short-term program. But we also must take a longer look, look to longer horizons. And I proposed a long-term plan in my State of the Union Address. Let me just give you a couple of the highlights here, some of the highlights.

First, let's create more American jobs by opening up and expanding markets all over the world. A new GATT agreement, we're working hard to get one, will make the world trading system come to grips with the damaging tariffs and export subsidies in agriculture. And by tearing down economic barriers with Mexico and Canada, a new North American free trade agreement can lift us to new heights of prosperity. And make no mistake about this: A sound free trade agreement will mean more American jobs, not less, more American jobs.

Second, let free choice and free markets reform this health care system of ours. This week I'm going to ask for a new credit to help those without health insurance, employed or not, to buy such coverage. My plan will assure that both American workers and the unemployed will have access to basic health insurance even if they change jobs or develop serious health problems. We can't improve health care by threatening the health of job-intensive businesses. The last thing we want is for companies to cut costs by cutting workers. And I am wholeheartedly opposed, as I believe you are, to schemes that cost jobs by mandating benefits that an employer must pay.

And thirdly, let's strengthen the family, the cornerstone of the American dream. Let's ease the burden of child-rearing. The personal tax exemption has not kept up with inflation. I'm asking Congress, immediately, to increase the exemption for each child by 0. It's a significant move in the right direction, and for our kids' sake, we must do no less.

Look at my economic proposals and you will find straightforward, plain solutions to our problems. Some may complain that they lack the flash of an expensive new program or that they don't have quite the right political ring for this political year. But I'm not seeking spending for spending's sake. I don't want a fancy title on a bill that will shoot interest rates right up through the roof. I want results. My plan is sound, and it will work.

If you hear people in Congress gripe that they can't get the job done by March 20th, remind them we won the Gulf war in 44 days. Surely Congress can pass my urgent domestic program in 52 days. Remember, Congress can act with lightning speed when it wants to. So, accept no excuses. Accept no delays. And accept no substitutes.

Please don't leave this message behind when you leave this convention hall. Take it home to your families, to your customers, to your neighbors. From February 8th till February 17th, your Congressmen will be home for the President's Day recess. That's a great time for you to go to their hometown offices and tell them to meet the deadline and to pass this plan. With an effort like this, I know we'll get their attention, and we'll get America moving again.

Thank you very, very much for this reception. And may God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:35 a.m. at the Orange County Convention/Civic Center. In his remarks, he referred to Tom Zaucha, president of the National Grocers Association.