George H.W. Bush (January 28, 1992)
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, distinguished members of Congress, honored
guests and fellow citizens:
I mean to speak tonight of big things, of big changes and the promises they
hold and of some big problems and how together we can solve them and move
our country forward as the undisputed leader of the age.
We gather tonight at a dramatic and deeply promising time in our history,
and in the history of man on earth. For in the past 12 months, the world
has known changes of almost biblical proportions. And even now, months
after the failed coup that doomed a failed system, I am not sure we have
absorbed the full impact, the full import of what happened.
But Communism died this year. Even as President, with the most fascinating
possible vantage point, there were times when I was so busy helping to
manage progress and lead change that I didn't always show the joy that was
in my heart But the biggest thing that has happened in the world in my
life, in our lives, is this: By the grace of God, America won the Cold War.
And there's another to be singled out, though it may seem inelegant. I mean
a mass of people called the American taxpayer. No ever thinks to thank the
people who pay country's bill or an alliance's bill. But for a half Century
now, the American people have shouldered the burden and paid taxes that
were higher than they would have been to support a defense that was bigger
than it would have been if imperial communism had never existed. But it
did. But it doesn't anymore. And here is a fact I wouldn't mind the world
acknowledging: The American taxpayer bore the brunt of the burden, and
deserves a hunk of the glory.
And so, now, for the first time in 35 years, our strategic bombers stand
down. No longer are they on round-the-clock alert. Tomorrow our children
will go to school and study history and how plants grow. And they won't
have, as my children did, air-raid drills in which they crawl under their
desks and cover their heads in case of nuclear war. My grandchildren don't
have to do that, and won't have the bad dreams children once had in decades
past. There are still threats. But the long drawn-out dread is over.
A year ago tonight I spoke to you at a moment of high peril. American
forces had just unleashed Operation Desert Storm. And after 40 days in the
desert skies and 4 days on the ground, the men and women of America's armed
forces and our allies accomplished the goals that I declared, and that you
endorsed: we liberated Kuwait.
Soon after, the Arab world and Israel sat down to talk seriously, and
comprehensively, about peace, an historic first. And soon after that, at
Christmas, the last American hostages came home. Our policies were
Much good can come from the prudent use of power. And much good can come
from this: A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one
sole and pre-eminent power, the United States of America. And this they
regard with no dread. For the world trusts us with power, and the world is
right. They trust us to be fair, and restrained. They trust us to be on the
side of decency. They trust us to do what's right.
I use those words advisedly. A few days after the war began, I received a
telegram from Joanne Speicher, the wife of the first pilot killed in the
gulf, Lieutenant Commander Scott Speicher. Even in her grief, she wanted me
to know that some day, when her children were old enough, she would tell
them "that their father went away to war because it was the right thing to
do". She said it all. It was the right thing to do.
And we did it together. There were honest differences here, in this
chamber. But when the war began, you put your partisanship aside and
supported our troops. This is still a time for pride, but this is no time
to boast. For problems face us, and we must stand together once again and
solve them--and not let our country down.
Two years ago, I began planning cuts in military spending that reflected
the changes of the new era. But now, this year, with Imperial Communism
gone, that process can be accelerated. Tonight I can tell you of dramatic
changes in our strategic nuclear force. These are actions we are taking on
our own, because they are the right thing to do.
After completing 20 planes for which we have begun procurement, we will
shut down production of the B-2 bomber. We will cancel the ICBM program. We
will cease production of new warheads for our sea-based missiles. We will
stop all production of the peacekeeper missile. And we will not purchase
any more advanced cruise missiles.
This weekend I will meet at Camp David with Boris Yeltsin of the Russian
Federation. I have informed President Yeltsin that if the commonwealth, the
former Soviet Union, will eliminate all land-based multiple-warhead
ballistic missiles, I will do the following: We will eliminate all
Peacekeeper missiles. We will reduce the number of warheads on Minuteman
missiles to one and reduce the number of warheads on our sea-based missiles
by about one-third. And we will convert a substantial portion of our
strategic to primarily conventional use.
President Yeltsin's early response has been very positive, and I expect our
talks at Camp David to be fruitful. I want you to know that for half a
century, American presidents have longed to make such decisions and say
such words. But even in the midst of celebration, we must keep caution as a
friend. For the world is still a dangerous place. Only the dead have seen
the end of conflict. And though yesterday's challenges are behind us,
tomorrow's are being born.
The Secretary of defense recommended these cuts after consultation with the
joint chiefs of staff. And I make them with confidence. But do not
misunderstand me: The reductions I have approved will save us an additional
$50 billion over the next five years. By 1997 we will have cut defense by
30 percent since I took office. These cuts are deep, and you must know my
resolve: this deep, and no deeper. To do less would be insensible to
progress, but to do more would be ignorant of history. We must not go back
to the days of "the hollow army". We cannot repeat the mistakes made twice
in this century when armistice was followed by recklessness and defense was
purged as if the world was permanently safe.
I remind you this evening that I have asked for your support in funding a
program to protect our country from limited nuclear missile attack. We must
have this protection because too many people in too many countries have
access to nuclear arms. There are those who say that now we can turn away
from the world, that we have no special role, no special place. But we are
the United States of America, the leader of the West that has become the
leader of the world.
As long as I am President we will continue to lead in support of freedom
everywhere, not out of arrogance and not out of altruism, but for the
safety and security of our children. This is a fact: Strength in the
pursuit of peace is no vice; isolationism in the pursuit of security is no
Now to our troubles at home. They are not all economic, but the primary
problem is our economy. There are some good signs. Inflation, that thief,
is down, and interest rates are down. But unemployment is too high, some
industries are in trouble and growth is not what it should be. Let me tell
you right from the start and right from the heart: I know we're in hard
times, but I know something else: This will not stand.
My friends in this chamber, we can bring the same courage and sense of
common purpose to the economy that we brought to Desert Storm. And we can
defeat hard times together. I believe you will help. One reason is that
you're patriots, and you want the best for your country. And I believe that
in your hearts you want to put partisanship aside and get the job done,
because it's the right thing to do.
The power of America rests in a stirring but simple idea: that people will
do great things if only you set them free. Well, we're going to have to set
the economy free, for if this age of miracles and wonders has taught us
anything, it's that if we can change the world, we can change America.
We must encourage investment. We must make it easier for people to invest
money and make new products, new industries, and new jobs. We must clear
away obstacles to new growth: high taxes, high regulation, red tape, and
yes, wasteful government spending. None of this will happen with a snap of
the fingers, but it will happen. And the test of a plan isn't whether it's
called new or dazzling. The American people aren't impressed by gimmicks.
They're smarter on this score than all of us in this room. The only test of
a plan is, It is sound and will it work? We must have a short-term plan to
address our immediate needs and heat up the economy. And then we need a
long-term plan to keep the combustion going and to guarantee our place in
the world economy.
There are certain things that a president can do without Congress, and I am
going to do them. I have this evening asked major cabinet departments and
federal agencies to institute a 90-day moratorium on any new federal
regulations that could hinder growth. In those 90 days, major departments
and agencies will carry out a top-to-bottom review of all regulations, old
and new, to stop the ones that will hurt growth and speed up those that
will help growth.
Further, for the untold number of hard-working, responsible American
workers and businessmen and women who've been forced to go without needed
bank loans, the banking credit crunch must end. I won't neglect my
responsibility for sound regulations that serve the public good, but
regulatory overkill must be stopped. And I have instructed our government
regulators to stop it.
I have directed Cabinet departments and federal agencies to speed up
pro-growth expenditures as quickly as possible. This should put an extra
$10 billion into the economy in the next six months. And our new
transportation bill provides more than $150 billion for construction and
maintenance projects that are vital to our growth and well-being. That
means jobs building roads, jobs building bridges and jobs building
railways. And I have this evening directed the secretary of the Treasury to
change the federal tax withholding tables. With this change, millions of
Americans from whom the government withholds more than necessary can now
choose to have the government withhold less from their paychecks. Something
tells me a number of taxpayers may take us up on this one. This initiative
could return about $25 billion back into the economy over the next 12
months, money people can use to help pay for clothing, college or a new
car. And finally, working with the Federal Reserve, we will continue to
support monetary policy that keeps both interest rates and inflation down.
Now these are the things that I can do. And now, members of Congress, let
me tell you what you can do for your country. You must, you must pass the
other elements of my plan to meet our economic needs. Everyone knows
investment speeds recovery. And I am proposing this evening a change in the
alternative minimum tax, and the creation of a new 15% investment tax
allowance. This will encourage businesses to accelerate investment and
bring people back to work. Real estate has led our economy out of almost
all the tough times we've ever had. Once building starts, carpenters and
plumbers work, people buy homes and take out mortgages.
My plan would modify the passive-loss rule for active real-estate
developers. And it would make it easier for pension plans to purchase real
estate. For those Americans who dream of buying a first home but who can't
quite afford it, my plan would allow first-time home buyers to withdraw
savings from IRAs without penalty and provide a $5000 tax credit for the
first purchase of that home.
And finally, my immediate plan calls on Congress to give crucial help to
people who own a home, to every one who has a business, a farm or a single
This time, at this hour, I cannot take "No" for an answer. You must cut the
capital gains tax on the people of this country. Never has an issue been so
demagogued by its opponents. But the demagogues are wrong. They are wrong,
and they know it. Sixty percent of people who benefit from lower capital
gains have incomes under $50,000. A cut in the capital gains tax increases
jobs and helps just about everyone in our country. And so I'm asking you to
cut the capital gains tax to a maximum of 15.4%. And I'll tell you, I'll
tell you, those of you who say, "Oh no, someone who's comfortable may
benefit from this" you kind of remind me of the old definition of the
Puritan, who couldn't sleep at night worrying that somehow someone
somewhere was out having a good time.
The opponents of this measure and those who've authored various so-called
soak-the-rich bills that are floating around this chamber should be
reminded of something: When they aim at the big guy, they usually hit the
little guy. And maybe it's time that stopped.
This then is my short-term plan. Your part, members of Congress, requires
enactment of these common-sense proposals that will have a strong effect on
the economy, without breaking the budget agreement and without raising tax
rates. And while my plan is being passed and kicking in, we've got to care
for those in trouble today. I have provided for up to $4.4 billion in my
budget to extend federal unemployment benefits, and I ask for Congressional
action right away. And I thank the committee--well, at last. And let's be
frank. Let's be frank; let me level with you.
I know, and you know, that my plan is unveiled in a political season. I
know, and you know, that everything I propose will be viewed by some in
merely partisan terms. But I ask you to know what is in my heart. And my
aim is to increase our nation's good. And I'm doing what I think is right;
I'm proposing what I know will help. I pride myself that I'm a prudent man,
and I believe that patience is a virtue, but I understand politics is, for
some, a game and that sometimes the game is to stop all progress and then
decry the lack of improvement. But let me tell you, let me tell you, far
more important than my political future--and far more important than
yours--is the well-being of our country. And members of this chamber,
members of this chamber, are practical people, and I know you won't resent
some practical advice: When people put their party's fortunes, whatever the
party, whatever the side of this aisle, before the public good, they court
defeat not only for their country, but for themselves. And they will
certainly deserve it.
And I submit my plan tomorrow. And I am asking you to pass it by March 20.
From the day after that--if it must be--the battle is joined. And you
know, when principle is at stake, I relish a good fair fight.
I said my plan has two parts, and it does. And it's the second part that is
the heart of the matter. For it's not enough to get an immediate burst. We
need long-term improvement in our economic position. We all know that the
key to our economic future is to insure that America continues as the
economic leader of the world. We have that in our power. Here, then, is my
long-term plan to guarantee our future.
First, trade: We will work to break down the walls that stop world trade.
We will work to open markets everywhere. And in our major trade
negotiations, I will continue pushing to eliminate tariffs and subsidies
that damage America's farmers and workers. And we'll get more good American
jobs within our own hemisphere through the North American Free Trade
Agreement, and through the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative. But
changes are here, and more are coming. The work place of the future will
demand more highly skilled workers than ever, people who are computer
literate, highly educated.
And we must be the world's leader in education. And we must revolutionize
America's schools. My America 2000 strategy will help us reach that goal.
My plan will give parents more choice, give teachers more flexibility and
help communities create new American schools. Thirty states across the
nation have established America 2000 programs. Hundreds of cities and towns
have joined. Now Congress must join this great movement. Pass my proposals
for new American schools.
That was my second long-term proposal. And here's my third: We must make
common-sense investments that will help us compete, long-term, in the
marketplace. We must encourage research and development. My plan is to make
the R and D tax credit permanent, and to provide record levels of support,
over $76 billion this year alone for people who explore the promise of
And fourth, we must do something about crime and drugs. And it is time for
a major renewed investment in fighting violent street crime. Its saps our
strength and hurts our faith in our society, and in our future together.
Surely a tired woman on her way to work at six in the morning on a subway
deserves the right to get there safely. And surely, it's true that everyone
who changes his or her way of life because of crime--from those afraid to
go our at night to those afraid to walk in the parks they pay for--surely
those people have been denied a basic civil right. It is time to restore
it. Congress, pass my comprehensive crime bill. It is tough on criminals
and supportive of police, and it has been languishing in these hallowed
halls for years now. Pass it. Help your country.
And fifth, I ask you tonight to fund our HOPE housing proposal and to pass
my enterprise-zone legislation, which will get businesses into the inner
city. We must empower the poor with the pride that comes from owning a
home, getting a job, becoming part of things. My plan would encourage real
estate construction by extending tax incentives for mortgage-revenue bonds
and low-income housing. And I ask tonight for record expenditures for the
program that helps children born into want move into excellence: Head
Step six: We must reform our health care system for this too, bears on
whether or not we can compete in the world. American health costs have been
exploding. This year America will spend over $800 billion on health, and
that is expected to grow to $1.6 trillion by the end of the decade. We
simply cannot afford this. The cost of health care shows up not only in
your family budget, but in the price of everything we buy and everything we
sell. When health coverage for a fellow on the assembly line costs
thousands of dollars, the cost goes into the product he makes. And you pay
the bill. Now we must make a choice.
Now some pretend we can have it both ways: they call it play or pay. But
that expensive approach is unstable. It will mean higher taxes, fewer jobs,
and eventually, a system under complete government control. Really, there
are only two options. And we can move toward a nationalized system, a
system which will restrict patient choice in picking a doctor and force the
government to ration services arbitrarily. And what we'll get is patients
in long lines, indifferent service and a huge new tax burden. Or we can
reform our own private health-care system, which still gives us, for all
its flaws, the best quality health care in the world. Well, let's build on
My plan provides insurance security for all Americans while preserving and
increasing the idea of choice. We make basic health insurance affordable
for all low-income people not now covered. We do it by providing a
health-insurance tax credit of up to $3750 for each low-income family. The
middle class gets help, too. And by reforming the health insurance market,
my plan assures that Americans will have access to basic health insurance
even if they change jobs or develop serious health problem We must bring
costs under control, preserve quality, preserve choice and reduce people's
nagging daily worry about health insurance. My plan, the details of which I
will announce shortly, does just that.
And seventh, we must get the federal deficit under control. We now have in
law, enforcable spending caps, and a requirement that we pay for the
programs we create. There are those in Congress who would ease that
discipline now. But I cannot let them do it. And I won't. My plan would
freeze all domestic discretionary budget authority which means "No more
next year than this year". I will not tamper with Social Security but I
would put real caps on the growth of uncontrolled spending. And I would
also freeze federal domestic government employment. And with the help of
Congress, my plan will get rid of 246 programs that don't deserve federal
funding. Some of them have noble titles, but none of them is indispensible.
We can get rid of each and every one of them.
You know, it's time we rediscovered a home truth the American people have
never forgotten: the government is too big and spends too much. And I call
on Congress to adopt a measure that will help put an end to the annual
ritual of filling the budget with pork-barrel appropriations. Every year,
the press has a field day making fun of outrageous examples, a Lawrence
Welk Museum, a research grant for Belgian Endive. We all know how these
things get into the budget, and maybe you need someone to help you say no.
I know how to say it. And you know what I need to make it stick. Give me
the same thing 43 governors have--the line-item veto--and let me help
you control spending.
We must put an end to unfinanced government mandates. These are the
requirements Congress puts on our cities, counties and states without
supplying the money. And if Congress passes a mandate, it should be forced
to pay for it and balance the cost with savings elsewhere. After all, a
mandate just increases someone else's tax burden, and that means higher
taxes at the state and local level.
Step Eight: Congress should enact the bold reform proposals that are still
awaiting congressional action: bank reform, civil justice reform, tort
reform, and my national energy strategy.
And finally, we must strengthen the family, because it is the family that
has the greatest bearing on our future. When Barbara holds an AIDS baby in
her arms and reads to children, she's saying to every person in this
country, "Family Matters".
And I am announcing tonight a new commission on America's urban families.
I've asked Missouri's governor, John Ashcroft, to be chairman, former
Dallas Mayor Annetter Strauss to be co-chair. You know, I had Mayors, the
leading mayors from the League of Cities, in the other day at the White
House, and they told me something striking. They said that every one of
them, Republican and Democrat, agreed on one thing: That the major cause of
the problems of the cities is the dissolution of the family. And they asked
for this commission, and they were right to ask, because it's time to
determine what we can do to keep families together, strong and sound.
There's one thing we can do right away: Ease the burden of rearing a child.
I ask you tonight to raise the personal exemption by $500 per child for
every family. For a family with four kids, that's an increase of $2000.
This is a good start in the right direction, and it's what we can afford.
It's time to allow families to deduct the interest they pay on student
loans. And I'm asking you to do just that. And I'm asking you to allow
people to use money from their IRAs to pay medical and educational
expenses, all without penalties. And I'm asking for more. Ask American
parents what they dislike about how things are going in our country, and
chances are good that pretty soon they'll get to welfare.
Americans are the most generous people on Earth. But we have to go back to
the insight of Franklin Roosevelt who, when he spoke of what became the
welfare program, want that it must not become a narcotic and a subtle
destroyer of the spirit. Welfare was never meant to be a life style. It was
never meant to be a habit. It was never supposed to be passed on from
generation to generation like a legacy. It's time to replace the
assumptions of the welfare state and help reform the welfare system.
States throughout the country are beginning to operate with new
assumptions: that when able-bodied people receive government assistance
they have responsibilities to the taxpayer. A responsibility to seek work,
education, or job training. A responsibility to get their lives in order. A
responsibility to hold their families together and refrain from having
children out of wedlock. And a responsibility to obey the law. We are going
to help this movement. Often, state reform requires waiving certain federal
regulations. I will act to make that process easier and quicker for every
state that asks our help. And I want to add, as we make these changes, we
work together to improve this system, that our intention is not
scapegoating and finger-pointing. If you read the papers or watch TV you
know there's been a rise these days in a certain kind of ugliness: racist
comments, anti-Semitism, an increased sense of division. Really, this is
not us. This is not who we are. And this is not acceptable.
And so you have my plan for America. And I am asking for big things, but I
believe in my heart you will do what's right.
And you know, it's kind of an American tradition to show a certain
skepticism toward our democratic institutions. I myself have sometimes
thought the aging process could be delayed if it had to make its way
through Congress. But you will deliberate, and you will discuss, and that
is fine. But my friends the people cannot wait. They need help now. And
there's a mood among us. People are worried. There has been talk of
decline. Someone even said our workers are lazy and uninspired. And I
thought, "Really? Go tell Neil Armstrong standing on the moon. Tell the
American farmer who feeds his country and the world. Tell the men and women
of Desert Storm." Moods come and go, but greatness endures. Our does.
And maybe for a moment it's good to remember what, in the dailyness of our
lives, we forget. We are still and ever the freest nation on Earth, the
kindest nation on Earth, the strongest nation on Earth. And we have always
risen to the occasion. And we are going to lift this nation out of hard
times inch by inch and day by day, and those who would stop us better step
aside. Because I look at hard times and I make this vow: This will not
stand. And so we move on, together, a rising nation, the once and future
miracle that is still, this night, the hope of the world.