State of the Union Address
4 February 1986
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, distinguished members of the Congress, honored
guests and fellow citizens, thank you for allowing me to delay my address
until this evening. We paused together to mourn and honor the valor of
our seven Challenger heroes . And I hope that we are now ready to do what
they would want us to do--go forward America and reach for the stars. We
will never forget those brave seven, but we shall go forward.
Mr. Speaker, before I begin my prepared remarks, may I point out that
tonight marks the 10th and last State of the Union message that you've
presided over. And on behalf of the American people, I want to salute you
for your service to Congress and country.
I have come to review with you the progress of our Nation, to speak
of unfinished work, and to set our sights on the future. I am pleased to
report the state of our Union is stronger than a year ago, and growing
stronger each day. Tonight, we look out on a rising America--firm of heart,
united in spirit, powerful in pride and patriotism--America is on the move!
But, it wasn't long ago that we looked out on a different land--locked
factory gates, long gasoline lines, intolerable prices and interest rates
turning the greatest country on earth into a land of broken dreams. Government
growing beyond our consent had become a lumbering giant, slamming shut
the gates of opportunity, threatening to crush the very roots of our freedom.
What brought America back? The American people brought us back--with
quiet courage and common sense; with undying faith that in this Nation
under God the future will be ours, for the future belongs to the free.
Tonight the American people deserve our thanks--for 37 straight months
of economic growth; for sunrise firms and modernized industries creating
9 million new jobs in 3 years; interest rates cut in half, inflation falling
over from 12 percent in 1980 to under 4 today; and a mighty river of good
works, a record $74 billion in voluntary giving just last year alone.
And despite the pressures of our modern world, family and community
remain the moral core of our society, guardians of our values and hopes
for the future. Family and community are the co-stars of this Great American
Comeback. They are why we say tonight: Private values must be at the heart
of public policies.
What is true for families in America is true for America in the family
of free nations. History is no captive of some inevitable force. History
is made by men and women of vision and courage. Tonight, freedom is on
the march. The United States is the economic miracle, the model to which
the world once again turns. We stand for an idea whose time is now: Only
by lifting the weights from the shoulders of all can people truly prosper
and can peace among all nations be secure.
Teddy Roosevelt said that a nation that does great work lives forever.
We have done well, but we cannot stop at the foothills when Everest beckons.
It's time for America to be all that we can be.
We speak tonight of an "Agenda for the Future," an agenda for a safer,
more secure world. And we speak about the necessities for actions to steel
us for the challenges of growth, trade and security in the next decade
and the year 2000. And we will do it--not by breaking faith with bedrock
principles, but by breaking free from failed policies.
Let us begin where storm clouds loom darkest--right here in Washington,
D.C. This week I will send you our detailed proposals; tonight, let us
speak of our responsibility to redefine government's role: Not to control,
not to demand or command, not to contain us; but to help in times of need,
and above all, to create a ladder of opportunity to full employment so
that all Americans can climb toward economic power and justice on their
But we cannot win the race to the future shackled to a system that can't
even pass a federal budget. We cannot win that race held back by horse-and-buggy
programs that waste tax dollars and squander human potential. We cannot
win that race if we're swamped in a sea of red ink.
Now, Mr. Speaker, you know, I know, and the American people know the
federal budget system is broken. It doesn't work. Before we leave this
city, let's you and I work together to fix it. And then we can finally
given the American people a balanced budget.
Members of Congress, passage of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings gives us an historic
opportunity to achieve what has eluded our national leadership for decades,
forcing federal government to live within its means.
Your schedule now requires that the budget resolution be passed by April
15th, the very day America's families have to foot the bill for the budgets
that you produce.
How often we read of a husband and wife both working, struggling from
paycheck to paycheck to raise a family, meet a mortgage, pay their taxes
and bills. And yet, some in Congress say taxes must be raised. Well, I'm
sorry--they're asking the wrong people to tighten their belts. It's time
we reduce the federal budget and left the family budget alone. We do not
face large deficits because American families are undertaxed; we face those
deficits because the federal government overspends.
The detailed budget that we will submit will meet the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings
target for deficit reductions, meet our commitment to ensure a strong national
defense, meet our commitment to protect Social Security and the truly less
fortunate, and, yes, meet our commitment to not raise taxes.
How should we accomplish this? Well, not by taking from those in need.
As families take care of their own, government must provide shelter and
nourishment for those who cannot provide for themselves. But we must revise
or replace programs enacted in the name of compassion that degrade the
moral worth of work, encourage family breakups, and drive entire communities
into a bleak and heartless dependency.
Gramm-Rudman-Hollings can mark a dramatic improvement. But experience
shows that simply setting deficit targets does not assure they'll be met.
We must proceed with Grace Commission reforms against waste. And tonight,
I ask you to give me what 43 Governors have--give me a line-item veto this
year. Give me the authority to veto waste, and I'll take the responsibility,
I'll make the cuts, I'll take the heat.
This authority would not give me any monopoly power, but simply prevent
spending measures from sneaking through that could not pass on their own
merit. And you can sustain or override my veto--that's, that's the way
the system should work. Once we've made the hard choices, we should lock
in our gains with a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. I mentioned
that we will meet our commitment to national defense. We must meet it.
Defense is not just another budget expense. Keeping America strong, free,
and at peace is solely the responsibility of the Federal Government; it
is Government's prime responsibility. We have devoted five years trying
to narrow a dangerous gap born of illusion and neglect. And we've made
important gains. Yet the threat from Soviet forces, conventional and strategic,
from the Soviet drive for domination, from the increase in espionage and
state terror remains great. This is reality. Closing our eyes will not
make reality disappear.
We pledge together to hold real growth in defense spending to the bare
minimum. My budget honors that pledge. And I'm now asking you, the Congress,
to keep its end of the bargain. The Soviets must know that if America reduces
her defenses, it will be because of a reduced threat, not a reduced resolve.
Keeping America strong is as vital to the national security as controlling
Federal spending is to our economic security. But, as I have said before,
the most powerful force we can enlist against the Federal deficit is an
ever-expanding American economy, unfettered and free.
The magic of opportunity--unreserved, unfailing, unrestrained--isn't
this the calling that unites us? I believe our tax rate cuts for the people
have done more to spur a spirit of risk-taking and help America's economy
break free than any program since John Kennedy's tax cut almost a quarter
Now history calls us to press on, to complete efforts for an historic
tax reform providing new opportunity for all and ensuring that all pay
their fair share--but no more. We've come this far. Will you join me now
and we'll walk this last mile together?
You know my views on this. We cannot and we will not accept tax reform
that is a tax increase in disguise. True reform must be an engine of productivity
and growth, and that means a top personal rate no higher than 35 percent.
True reform must be truly fair and that means raising personal exemptions
to $2,000. True reform means a tax system that at long last is pro-family,
pro-jobs, pro-future, and pro-America.
As we knock down the barriers to growth, we must redouble our efforts
for freer and fairer trade. We have already taken actions to counter unfair
trading practices to pry open closed foreign markets. We will continue
to do so. We will also oppose legislation touted as providing protection
that in reality pits one American worker against another, one industry
against another, one community against another, and that raises prices
for us all. If the United States can trade with other nations on a level
playing field, we can out-produce, out-compete, and out-sell anybody, anywhere
in the world.
The constant expansion of our economy and exports requires a sound and
stable dollar at home and reliable exchange rates around the world. We
must never gain permit wild currency swings to cripple our farmers and
other exporters. Farmers, in particular, have suffered from past unwise
government policies. They must not be abandoned with problems they did
not create and cannot control. We've begun coordinating economic and monetary
policy among our major trading partners. But there's more to do, and tonight
I am directing Treasury Secretary Jim Baker to determine if the nations
of the world should convene to discuss the role and relationship of our
Confident in our future, and secure in our values, Americans are striving
forward to embrace the future. We see it not only in our recovery, but
in three straight years of falling crime rates, as families and communities
band together to fight pornography, drugs, and lawlessness, and to give
back to their children the safe and, yes, innocent childhood they deserve.
We see it in the renaissance in education, the rising SAT scores for three
years--last year's increase the greatest since 1963. It wasn't government
and Washington lobbies that turned education around, it was the American
people who, in reaching for excellence, knew to reach back to basics. We
must continue the advance by supporting discipline in our schools; vouchers
that give parents freedom of choice; and we must give back to our children
their lost right to acknowledge God in their classrooms.
We are a nation of idealists, yet today there is a wound in our national
conscience; America will never be whole as long as the right to life granted
by our Creator is denied to the unborn. For the rest of my time, I shall
do what I can to see that this wound is one day healed.
As we work to make the American Dream real for all, we must also look
to the condition of America's families. Struggling parents today worry
how they will provide their children the advantages that their parents
gave them. In the welfare culture, the breakdown of the family, the most
basic support system, has reached crisis proportions--in female and child
poverty, child abandonment, horrible crimes and deteriorating schools.
After hundreds of billions of dollars in poverty programs, the plight of
the poor grows more painful. But the waste in dollars and cents pales before
the most tragic loss--the sinful waste of human spirit and potential.
We can ignore this terrible truth no longer. As Franklin Roosevelt warned
51 years ago, standing before this chamber, he said, "Welfare is a narcotic,
a subtle destroyer of the human spirit." And we must now escape the spider's
web of dependency. Tonight I am charging the White House Domestic Council
to present me by December 1, 1986, an evaluation of programs and a strategy
for immediate action to meet the financial, educational, social, and safety
concerns of poor families. I am talking about real and lasting emancipation,
because the success of welfare should be judged by how many of its recipients
become independent of welfare.
Further, after seeing how devastating illness can destroy the financial
security of the family, I am directing the Secretary of Health and Human
Services, Dr. Otis Bowen, to report to me by year end with recommendations
on how the private sector and government can work together to address the
problems of affordable insurance for those whose life savings would otherwise
be threatened when catastrophic illness strikes.
And tonight I want to speak directly to America's younger generation,
because you hold the destiny of our nation in your hands. With all the
temptations young people face it sometimes seems the allure of the permissive
society requires superhuman feats of self-control. But the call of the
future is too strong, the challenge too great to get lost in the blind
alleyways of dissolution, drugs, and despair.
Never has there been a more exciting time to be alive--a time of rousing
wonder and heroic achievement. As they said in the film, Back to the Future,
"Where we are going, we don't need roads." Well, today physicists peering
into the infinitely small realms of subatomic particles find reaffirmations
of religious faith. Astronomers build a space telescope that can see to
the edge of the universe and possibly back to the moment of creation.
So, yes, this nation remains fully committed to America's space program
. We're going forward with our shuttle flights, we're going forward to
build our space station, and we are going forward with research on a new
Orient Express that could, by the end of the next decade, take off from
Dulles Airport, accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound, attaining
low earth orbit or flying to Tokyo within two hours.
And the same technology transforming our lives can solve the greatest
problem of the 20th century. A security shield can one day render nuclear
weapons obsolete and free mankind from the prison of nuclear terror.
America met one historic challenge and went to the moon. Now America must
meet another--to make our strategic defense real for all the citizens of
Let us speak of our deepest longing for the future--to leave our children
a land that is free and just and a world at peace. It is my hope that our
fireside summit in Geneva and Mr. Gorbachev's upcoming visit to America
can lead to a more stable relationship. Surely no people no Earth hate
war more or love peace more than we Americans.
But we cannot stroll into the future with child-like faith. Our differences
with a system that openly proclaims and practices an alleged right to command
people's lives and to export its ideology by force are deep and abiding.
Logic and history compel us to accept that our relationship be guided
by realism--rockhard, clear-eyed, steady, and sure. Our negotiators in
Geneva have proposed a radical cut in offensive forces by each side, with
no cheating. They have made clear that Soviet compliance with the letter
and spirit of agreements is essential. If the Soviet government wants an
agreement that truly reduces nuclear arms, there will be an agreement.
But arms control is no substitute for peace. We know that peace follows
in freedom's path and conflicts erupt when the will of the people is denied.
So we must prepare for peace not only by reducing weapons but by bolstering
prosperity, liberty, and democracy however and wherever we can.
We advance the promise of opportunity every time we speak out on behalf
of lower tax rates, freer markets, sound currencies around the world. We
strengthen the family of freedom every time we work with allies and come
to the aid of friends under siege. And we can enlarge the family of free
nations if we will defend the unalienable rights of all God's children
to follow their dreams.
To those imprisoned in regimed held captive, to those beaten for daring
to fight for freedom and democracy--for their right to worship, to speak,
to live and to prosper in the family of free nations--we say to you tonight:
You are not alone Freedom Fighters. America will support you with moral
and material assistance your right not just to fight and die for freedom,
but to fight and with freedom--to win freedom in Afghanistan; in Angola;
in Cambodia; and in Nicaragua .
This is a great moral challenge for the entire world. Surely, no issue
is more important for peace in our own hemisphere, for the security of
our frontiers, for the protection of our vital interests--than to achieve
democracy in Nicaragua and to protect Nicaragua's democratic neighbors.
This year I will be asking Congress for the means to do what must be
done for the great and good cause. As Scoop Jackson, the inspiration for
our Bipartisan Commission on Central America, once said, "In matters of
national security, the best politics is no politics."
What we accomplish the year, in each challenge we face, will set our
course for the balance of the decade, indeed for the remainder of the century.
After all we've done so far, let no one say that this Nation cannot reach
the destiny of our dreams. America believes, America is ready, America
can win the race to the future--and we shall.
The American Dream is a song of hope that rings through night winter
air. Vivid, tender music that warms our hearts when the least among us
aspire to the greatest things--to venture a daring enterprises; to unearth
new beauty in music, literature, and art; to discover a new universe inside
a tiny silicon chip or a single human cell.
We see the dream coming true in the spirit of discovery of Richard Cavoli--all
his life he's been enthralled by the mysteries of medicine. And Richard,
we know that the experiment that you began in high school was launched
and lost last week, yet your dream lives. And as long as it's real, work
of noble note will yet be done--work that could reduce the harmful effects
of X rays on patients and enable astronomers to view the golden gateways
of the farthest stars.
We see the dream glow in the towering talent of a twelve year-old, Tyrone
Ford--a child prodigy of gospel music, he has surmounted personal adversity
to become an accomplished pianist and singer. He also directs the choirs
of three churches and has performed at the Kennedy Center.
With God as your composer, Tyrone, your music will be the music of angels.
We see the dream being saved by the courage of the thirteen year-old,
Shelby Butler--honor student and member of her school's safety patrol.
Seeing another girl freeze in terror before an out-of-control school bus,
she risked her life and pulled her to safety. With bravery like yours,
Shelby, America need never fear for our future.
And we see the dream born again in the joyful compassion of a thirteen
year-old, Trevor Ferrell. Two years ago, age eleven, watching men and women
bedding down in abandoned doorways--on television he was watching--Trevor
left his suburban Philadelphia home to bring blankets and food to the helpless
and homeless. And now, 250 people help him fulfill his nightly vigil.
Trevor, yours is the living spirit of brotherly love. Would you four
stand up for a moment?
Thank you, thank you. You are heroes of our hearts. We look at you and
know it's true--in this land of dreams fulfilled, where greater dreams
may be imagined, nothing is impossible, no victory is beyond our reach,
no glory will every be too great.
So now, it's up to us, all of us, to prepare America for that day when
our work will pale before the greatness of America's champions in the 21st
century. The world's hopes rest with America's future; America's hopes
rest with us. So let us go forward to create our world of tomorrow in faith,
in unity, and in love.
God bless you and God bless America.