Calls on Congress to Show Fiscal Responsibility
Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
April 16, 2002
3:15 P.M. EDT
Well, thank you all very much. I appreciate you coming and giving me a chance
to discuss the budget -- (laughter) -- of our country.
First, I want to thank Ted Fowler and Grady Rosier for leading this mobile effort
to make sure that Congress gets the message that fiscal sanity and discipline
is important as we fight our war against terror.
I want to thank the members of my administration who are here, the Deputy Director
of the OMB. I don't know where "The Blade" is, but -- (laughter) --
he's traveling. But I want to thank you all very much for making up the Fiscal
Now, last night was not only the night people were supposed to file their taxes,
but Congress is supposed to file its budget. The House has, and the Senate hasn't
acted yet. But I want you to know that we fulfilled our responsibility. And
I want to talk about budgeting in the face of the war against terror and budgeting
in the face of a slowdown in our economy.
It's an important issue because sound budgeting is going to determine whether
or not, and sound appropriating is going to determine whether or not people
are going to be able to find work.
First, I think it's important on any budget to set priorities. And I want to
share with you the three priorities that I've set and why I did it. Homeland
security: we've doubled the amount of money available for homeland security
because my most important job is to protect our homeland. I need to be able
to say to the American people that you can go about your lives because we're
doing everything we can to protect you, and we are.
We've got money in our budget for first time responders -- those are your police
and your fire and your emergency medical teams -- so that they can have a capacity
to respond to any emergency that may occur, if one does. We've got money for
bioterrorism in our budget. We've got medicines available. We're beefing up
the public health units around the country. We've got money in our budget for
border security. I mean, let's be frank about it, we've got to know -- do a
better job about knowing who's coming in and why they're coming into America,
how long they intend to stay, and whether or not they're staying for as long
as they say they're staying.
We beefed up our Coast Guard, to make sure that our ports and -- ports of entry
are better protected. We're doing a much better job here in America of communicating
between law enforcement agencies. We've got money in our budget to modernize
the capacity for the FBI to communicate internally, as well as with other law
enforcement agencies around the country.
You just need to know that any time we get any hint that somebody might be thinking
about doing something to America, we're responding. We're chasing down every
possible lead to make sure the homeland is secure.
But the reality is is that the way to secure the homeland is to find these killers,
wherever they try to hide, and bring them to justice. That's the best way to
secure America. I know some Americans wonder what is -- how long this is going
to go on. The answer is, for however long it takes. History has called us into
action. We're not going to blink, we're not going to get tired. We're going
to do what is necessary to defend our freedoms.
I like to tell people in these speeches I'm giving, that I can't imagine what
went through the mind of the killers. They must have thought we were so materialistic,
so self-absorbed, that all we were going to do was file a lawsuit. (Laughter.)
They found out that we think differently here.
And so my budget prioritizes our national defense. It's the biggest increase
in the defense budget in 20 years. And there's a couple of reasons why. First,
any time we send our troops into harm's way, they've got to have the best training,
the best equipment, the best possible pay. I mean, we owe it to our soldiers
that it be this way.
And secondly, the size of the budget request ought to indicate to the American
people that we're in it for the -- and the enemy, by the way -- that we're in
this for the long pull; that there is no calendar on my desk that says, oh by
the way, this thing must end by such and such a moment. That's just not the
way I'm thinking, and it's not the way our military is thinking. And the Congress
needs to understand that as well, that it's expensive to fight for freedom,
but it's not too expensive, because it's freedom we fight for.
These people, these terrorists still want to hit us. They're cold-blooded murderers,
that's just what they are, and we're denying them places to hide. And, slowly
but surely, we're going to get them. And just ask their chief operating operator,
Abu Zubaydah, what it's like to be on the wrong side of the United States of
America. We got him, and America's safer for it, but there's more out there.
I feel the same way, by the way, about nations that are going to develop these
weapons of mass destruction, who have got a history of hating America, hating
freedom, and using these weapons against their own people, for example. I've
got one country in mind, as I laid out that characteristic. (Laughter.)
But we can't, for the good of our children and for the sake of our future, allow
them ever to team up with an al Qaeda organization, and try to hold us hostage
or hold the free world hostage. And it's just not going to happen. I'm going
to be patient and deliberate, be steady. And our budget reflects that.
And so -- and the third priority has been to make sure that we promote economic
vitality and growth. And so the priority in the budget was the tax cut that
many of you worked on and is now in place. And I will tell you that I remember
giving speech after speech after speech saying our economy needs a tax cut.
It's important to let people have their own money so that they can spend and,
when they do, demand increases and then somebody will meet that demand with
a good or a service, and then somebody will be able to find work. And it made
a huge difference in our -- in the vitality of our economy that we cut the taxes.
Those taxes need to be permanent, by the way. And I look forward to working
And the budget also included a blueprint for the economic stimulus plan that
I signed. And, again, I want to thank some of you in this room for working on
this -- a good thing. (Applause.)
And so I urge Congress to get moving on the appropriations process, particularly
when it comes to the Defense bill. Generally, here in Washington, they wait
and put the Defense bill out last. I'm not going to read any reasons why into
that; it just happens. I'll let the experts tell you why.
It seems like to me if we're at war -- and we are at war -- that they ought
to get the Defense appropriations bill out first, and not play games with the
Defense appropriations. (Applause.) And so I'm asking Congress to do that. I've
made this clear to the leadership. I had a breakfast; they were -- seemed to
be very responsive. And now it's time for the appropriators to act.
I also asked Congress to pass the supplemental that we submitted. It's emergency
funding for defense and homeland security and economic security, and we'd like
to get that done by Memorial Day. It's time for them to get that supplemental
The key, however, in making sure that this all fits together is that Congress
understand the consequences of excessive spending beyond the priorities. The
budget we submitted sets our priorities. But areas outside of our priorities
will increase in expenditure by 2 percent -- which is a pretty darn healthy
increase in times of war.
It means that we're going to meet other obligations. The education bill, for
example, is an increase, after a substantial increase from last year. And one
of the things that I'm urging Congress is to make sure that when they begin
to think about programs and what they're going to spend the money on is to think
of the lessons of the past. We must not repeat the mistakes in the '60s, when
increased spending required by war was not balanced by slower spending in the
rest of government. That the appropriators thought, what the heck, we'll just
spend it on everything without any fiscal discipline in Washington, D.C. And,
as a result, in the '70s, we faced unemployment and growing deficits and spiraling
In times of -- now is the time for us to be responsible when it comes to spending
the people's money. That's not to say it's not always time to be responsible
when it comes to spending the people's money, but it's a time to be disciplined.
The lesson ought to be clear that when you have excess spending, it's going
to cost people their jobs. And Congress has got to be very careful about that.
The recession -- no question, I remember when I was campaigning, I said, would
you ever deficit spend? And I said, yes, only if there were a time of war, or
recession, or a national emergency. Never thought we'd get -- (laughter and
applause.) And so we have a temporary deficit in our budget, because we are
at war, we're recovering, our economy is recovering, and we've had a national
emergency. Never did I dream we'd have the trifecta. (Laughter.)
But the key is to make sure it's as small as possible. And to make sure it doesn't
last very long. And so you'll hear some who say, well, let's raise taxes as
the way to deal with this temporary deficit. That, of course, would slow the
economy down. It would make deficits worse.
The best way to make sure that we get rid of this deficit, this short-term,
temporary deficit is to continue stimulating our economy, more jobs, more growth
equals more tax revenues. And at the same time, have strong fiscal discipline
here in Washington, D.C.
If we restrain spending, even though we're at war, even though our economy is
still clunking along, if we react responsibly, we can return to a balanced budget,
something I want, as early as 2004. But tough choices on Capitol have to be
I intend to help them make those choices. I want them to -- (applause.) I think
we can do so in the spirit of cooperation, focusing on what's best for America.
This doesn't have to be a time for harsh partisanship, where people are trying
to advance their own political agendas as opposed to focusing on what's best
for the country.
What's best for the country is winning the war on terror, buttoning up the homeland,
and keeping this economy growing so people can find work. That's what's best
for the country. And we don't have to get into needless partisan screeching
over the budget. We've got to be wise and reasonable with the people's money.
And we've got to have some goals. And I've set the goals in terms of the war,
and set the goals in terms of the homeland. Our economy needs to get growing.
But we also can focus on making sure we end this deficit. And we can do so,
if the United States Congress does not overspend. And that's what I'm here to
ask for your help on.
I know you're interested in our country. I know you're most interested in the
budgeting process. And we need your help, to help them hold the line on spending.
You've got a tool, and that's called your voice, and the people you work with.
And I've got a tool, and that's called a veto. (Laughter and applause.) And
perhaps -- and together -- (applause).
I don't think that's going to be necessary, because I believe, in this difficult
time for America, there's a common spirit on Capitol Hill, and one that we can
promote and use for the benefit of the people.
And let me conclude by telling you, as people who've got influence in your communities
and around the country, that there is a way you can help fight this war against
terror, beyond trying to affect the budget, make sure you keep employing people.
And that is to love your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself; that
if you're interested in fighting evil, do some good, mentor a child, tell your
own children you love them every single day, help a shut-in; get your church
or synagogue or mosque to feed the hungry.
Always remember there are pockets of despair and hopelessness in America, pockets
of -- places where -- but a place that can be changed, as a result of a loving
soul entering someone's life. The best way to fight evil in America is, do some
good. And it's those collective acts of kindness and decency and compassion
which will not only -- stands America squarely in the face of evil, but which
will turn the evil acts done to us -- incredible good for people, people all
around the country.
This is a great country. There's no doubt in my mind that not only will we be
able to achieve peace, but we'll achieve a hopeful America for everybody.
Thank you all for coming, and may God bless. (Applause.)