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Press Conference President Kennedy May 23, 1962
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Mr. Smith?
QUESTION: Mr. President, assuming that the King-Anderson bill passes, as you have predicted, do you then envision in, perhaps next year or the year after, going to Congress again and asking for a plan which would provide similar coverage to pay doctor bills?
THE PRESIDENT: No, that's not planned. I notice that legislation was criticized one day for going too far in limiting the relationship between doctors and their patients, and on another day, the next day I believe, certain members opposed to the King-Anderson bill attacked it for not including doctors. This bill includes provisions for payment of hospital bills, nursing care, out-patient care. It does not attempt to interfere in any way with the relationship between the doctor and the patient, and we have no plans to provide such legislation.
QUESTION: Mr. President, has the Administration any plans for dealing with the refugee problem in Hong Kong?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I notice in the press this afternoon that some effort now seems to be, at least is reported to be made by the Chinese Communists to stop the flow of refugees. We are providing food for about half a million refugees in Hong Kong now, and have been for some years. The British have been doing an extraordinary job in finding employment and feeding the people who were there.
There are several thousand refugees in Hong Kong and surrounding areas who have been cleared by our consular people for admission to the United States, and under the authority of Congress which has been granted in similar cases, we are attempting to expedite their admission to the United States, under the power given to the Attorney General by the legislation, the same legislation which has permitted us to bring in Hungarian refugees and Cuban refugees.
It should be pointed out, however, that this does not get at the basic problem, which is that of a tremendous country, 650 million people, where the food supply is inadequate. It swamps and dwarfs, obviously, Hong Kong and any effort we could make in regard to admission--but at least we are helping to feed those who are there, although the primary responsibility has been very ably borne by the British, and we are attempting to bring in some refugees who have been cleared for admission to the United States.
QUESTION: Mr. President, would you consider it in the national interest, sir, to make an offer of American surplus grains as a Food-for-Peace program to Mainland China, to Communist China, at this time?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there has been no indication of any expression of interest or desire by the Chinese Communists to received any food from us, as I have said at the beginning, and we would certainly have to have some idea as to whether the food was needed and under what conditions it might be distributed.
Up to the present, we have had no such indication.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there are published reports today, sir, that the Army group which originally remained in Thailand is not equipped with live ammunition, and there seems to be some discontent among the troops over this. Could you discuss this situation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, their ammunition is there. This is a friendly country. They haven't had ammunition clips in their guns, in their barracks at all times, but the ammunition is available in case they were forced to move into a military area or where military action might be taken. Of course the ammunition would be given. But it is not customary in this country or in a friendly country like Thailand, these troops are not under attack, we don't want ammunition to be inside the guns. But the ammunition is there, and it is quite adequate for any situation that might come, and further ammunition will be stored in the appropriate places. Merely a question of whether all guns are loaded, at all times, in a friendly country. Unless there is sharp control, of course, by the military commanders, practice firing and all the rest, until that is organized well, the ammunition is naturally under control.
QUESTION: Mr. President, could you tell us what you thought of the American Medical Association's reply on Monday night to your proposal, your speech on Sunday about medical care, and also could you tell us what sort of reaction you have had so far in the White House to the two television speeches, yours on Sunday and the American Medical Association's?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I read the statement and I gathered they were opposed to it. (laughter) What I thought was remarkable was that the language was so similar to the language which the AMA used when it opposed and successfully defeated the proposal which President Eisenhower sent up a number of years ago to provide for reinsurance of private health schemes.
That was a proposal--I was on the Committee, as a matter of fact, that heard it, and supported the legislation. The AMA led the fight against it and defeated it. In addition, the AMA was one of the chief opponents of the Social Security system in the 30's. The words, "a cruel hoax" were used against the Social Security system at that time as they are used today. The statement--the description of our bill, I did not recognize.
Now I think that the American people know quite well what this problem is. There isn't anyone in the United States who will not have or has not already had a case of a parent who is sick for a long period of time, with the burden falling very heavily upon either them, on their savings or upon their children.
There isn't any doubt that we take care, in this country, of those who have no resources. They are treated, and we take care of those who are well enough off to pay for all of their bills. What this bill would particularly help are those who have some savings and who nevertheless find themselves hard hit, or their children who have some savings and find themselves faced with these large bills which in the short space of one, two and three and four months can run up into several thousands of dollars. So that I feel that the AMA may not support this bill but I think the American people will, and I think more and more doctors are supporting it. And I think it is extremely important legislation.
Now in regard to the mail, I would say that the mail we have gotten as a result of the speech is about evenly divided, but I will point out that I am not as convinced--I was just looking at the White House mail, and I got last week 28 letters on Laos, which is an extremely important problem, of which 14 disagreed with our policy and I think six supported it and others were undecided. I got 440 letters on a tax--the cancellation of a tax: exemption for a mercy foundation, so-called, in a State in the United States which I wouldn't think of great national significance, about twenty times as much mail on it. So that mail is--I wish--unfortunately is not as true an indicator of the feelings of the people.
In my judgment, if this matter comes to the Floor of the Senate, it will pass this year. If it comes to the Floor of the House, it will pass, and it will serve just as effectively as the social security bill has served us since the 1930's and those who are opposed to social security should oppose this, but those who believe that social security has served this country well should support this because it's in that tradition.
QUESTION: Sir, do you feel there is anything besides hunger, besides this great flood of refugees, going into Hong Kong? There have been reports that some of these refugees have exit visas from China. Is there anything more here than meets the eye?
THE PRESIDENT: As I understand it, the British have accepted those who are political refugees. Those who are not they have been forced to turn back because Hong Kong is so crowded.
I read reports that they do not seem to be suffering from acute malnutrition, but there isn't any doubt that there is a food crisis, the distribution of food, the structure of the economy in the state in some of these areas in China have broken down, and many people desire to leave. If they could leave, I think many more would.
QUESTION: Do you feel that the Chinese government has perhaps become more oppressive and that this is a cause, rather than hunger?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it would be difficult to make an informed judgment as to all the motivations of those who are leaving, but it is certainly a combination of those factors.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in connection with the Billie Sol Estes case, there appears to be a possibility that a Federal official was murdered in this case. In view of that, do you think that Secretary Freeman was altogether justified in saying, as he did, that this case had been ballooned out of proportion?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think we should wait until the FBI has completed its investigation of the matter. I couldn't--Mr. Freeman is not--I don't think the Texas local officials made a judgment in regard to the case which has been accepted until recently. Now the FBI and the local authorities are re-examining the case and we will get a much better idea when that examination is completed.
QUESTION: Mr. President, apart from your statement last week in the press conference and your speech that evening on the future of the Atlantic alliance, are you making your views clear to President de Gaulle and Chancellor Adenauer before they meet on June 2nd?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that the views of all the parties are well known to each other. I don't plan any further communication on the matter.
QUESTION: Mr. President, would you accept a Medicare compromise that did not include social security financing?
THE PRESIDENT: Social Security is at the heart of the financing, and the heart of the legislation. So that wouldn't be--that isn't a compromise.
That would be just a giving up on the bill and we don't plan to do that.
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you satisfied that our misunderstanding with West Germany over the Berlin proposals have now been straightened out and that discussions will be resumed with the Soviet Union with the full support of the West German government?
THE PRESIDENT: I think the misunderstandings have been straightened out. As far as the positions of the parties, that we must wait until we have analyzed the German proposal which has just been received, as you know, within the last 24 hours. That will be analyzed and a proper response will be made to the West German government. As far as the talks, as I have said, they will continue.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you plan to take any action to help the stock market if it gets any worse?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the economy which is moving steadily forward is the best stimulant to the stock market the most natural one. The figures we have for April are encouraging. Car sales, increase in retail sales and all the rest indicates that the economy has a good deal of strength, so that I believe that the stock market will move in accordance with the movement of the economy, as a general rule.
Now there have been at least four occasions since the end of the Second War when the stock market has dropped at the time the economy was rising. I think last week we talked about--I gave an example of 1956, when the stock market went down at a time when the economy was steadily rising.
The economy is rising, unemployment is down, the prospects in this month are good, and therefore I think that the stock market will follow the economy. As I said before, the stock market was very high. When you are talking about evaluation of 22 times earnings, or dividends, that is a very high sale and twice as much as it was, for example, in 1957. But as far as the long haul for the stock market, I think it will keep in line with the economy and I think the prospects for the economy for this year, as I have said, are good.
QUESTION: Mr. President, is our troop commitment to Southeast Asia similar in principle to the one we have in Western Europe, that is, are we ready to deny Communist force throughout Southeast Asia?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, our treaty relationships with Laos and Viet Nam and Cambodia are somewhat different than our NATO relationship. As you know, they were covered by SEATO, and they were protocol states of SEATO. Thailand itself, is, of course, a signatory, which is in a comparable way the same as NATO.
QUESTION: My question, sir, is this: Would we pull our forces out once the Laos government is formed, or would we feel we had to stay there until we were sure that Communist force would not exert itself in that area?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we'll have to make a judgment of what the situation is in those areas. I quite agree that when you put troops in, they become difficult to take out, unless the situation is stable, so that I have not ever said that the troops movement into Thailand, its end could be predicted. But we are staying there, and then we will make a judgment as to how long they should stay, based on events, as we have in Europe.
QUESTION: Sir, the Agriculture Department has given only one reason for withdrawing its grain from the warehouses of Billie Sol Estes in Texas, this being that it is in the public interest. They have declined further comment.
In view of the fact that the Department has previously said that there was nothing wrong with the warehouses or the operations, could you comment, sir, on how it would be in the public interest to remove the grain when the creditors are depending on this income to help settle their bills?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we are not, as you know, removing the grain immediately. We are removing it--we are moving it into the normal channels of trade over a period of time. If we moved it out immediately it would cost the government about two million dollars. We are moving it out, with more speed, out of this terminal than we would out of others, because of all the circumstances surrounding the case. But we are going to move it out. But it is over a period of time and it will not be moved from one terminal to another terminal, but instead will be moved into the normal channels of trade in a way which will not cost the United States government anything. But I think that it is appropriate that under reasonable conditions that the grain is moved away from that terminal.
QUESTION: Mr. President, would you care to evaluate the White House Conference on National Economic Issues that just concluded? Do you feel there is a value in having this mass ventilation of ideas between labor and--
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do. The meeting, of course, had two phases, one were the public speeches. I wished in the public speeches that we could have discussed what I feel are some of the newer problems that the economy faces and which labor-management faces.
I understand that in the private meetings that there was a much more--there was a willingness to forget some of the old basic arguments between labor and management and consider some of the new challenges. But I think that this is only the first of what I hope will be a series. I believe that there really isn't much sense in having a long argument about the union shop or about industry-wide bargaining. Those arguments are well known, the positions are hard and are taken clearly on both sides. As I said in my opening, what I would like to hear them talk about is how the government, labor and management can function so as to provide for a steadily increasing economy, what we can do about the flow of gold, how we can prevent periodic recessions at every two or three years, how we can maintain full employment, as other free countries have, what's the proper relationship between government and business and labor, what should be our budget policies, our debt policies.
These are all the matters which concern us today, and about which we must do something. And I would like to have their views on it, not so much their views on questions which have been debated, about which we are fully informed of the points of interest of each of the parties, but rather these new and as I said rather sophisticated and technical questions.
It is my understanding in the private meetings there was discussion heading in this direction. I hope, therefore, we will have another conference quite soon so that we can continue to talk about these things. I will be very appreciative to the Business Advisory Committee which is now looking into giving us some suggestions on the flow of gold, and the CED's Committee which is going do study the economy of several European countries. I have asked our Council of Economic Advisers to consider particularly the case of France, which has had rather extraordinary economic vitality, so that I hope we can begin to focus our attention on these matters in the next few months.
QUESTION: Mr. President, last week end in New York you made it quite clear that you were anxious to help Brazil with emergency food shipments, and about the same time one of the maritime unions began picketing the ship which was to carry that food to Brazil. I wondered if you had any feeling of disappointment in that, or whether you had any fatherly advice on union leaders?
THE PRESIDENT: I understand that the ship is now being moved to the dock to load and is going to Brazil, that this matter has been settled.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Dr. Harry Wexler of the United States Weather Bureau and his counterpart in the Soviet Union jointly have presented a plan to be approved by the Economic and Social Commission of the United Nations for studying world weather by earth satellites.
Do you view this as an optimistic sign that the United States and Russia may ultimately cooperate both on Space and on earth?
THE PRESIDENT: We have felt that the first place to start was on weather, and I think that any progress we can make on that would be very welcome. I must say that we strongly support any cooperative effort we could make on weather, predictions of storms and all of the rest, and I hope that it will lead to other areas of cooperation in Space.
QUESTION: Mr. President, on this matter of the growth rate of Western Europe, you have several times pointed out that it is twice ours. What relationship do you think this has with deficit financing?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's what I think we ought to be--one of the matters we ought to be talking about. Their budgetary system, as opposed to ours, is somewhat different, and that's one of the matters which I have asked the Council of Economic Advisers to look at. It's one of the matters the CED should look at. I am not sure that our budget-keeping is as modern as the economy demands.
In addition, I think we ought to look at our tax structure, which of course we are doing as part of the over-all tax reform we are going to send up next year. Does our tax system stimulate the economy or does it serve as a drag on the economy because of the way it hits the structure at a time when the economy is moving out of a recession into a period of prosperity.
The 1958-1960 experience and perhaps the experience this winter all indicate that these are matters which should be very carefully looked at. In other words, I don't think we should be satisfied with the way we are operating our economy as long as we are not going at full blast, at they are.
Now the question is, how much of this, as I have said, is due to the Common Market, how much of it is due to different stages of economic growth, and how much of it is due to different economic planning, and different relationships between the various segments of the economy. These are all the matters which I believe all of us in government, management, labor and the public ought to be looking at, to see if there is something that we can learn that's to our advantage.
What we don't always realize is that while the economy may be in a-- the budget may be in a deficit over-all for a fiscal year, that deficit may be concentrated in the first few months, and then as the year goes on, the taxes begin to come in, you then begin to get a surplus which, of course, has a brake effect on the economy.
In addition, the cash budget as opposed to the administrative budget has an entirely different impact on the economy. So that all of these are the kinds of questions which I would like to see us, and by "us" I mean all of us who are concerned, talk about and not merely concentrate our attention on these rather old slogans and fights which shed heat but not too much light on the matters which are directly before us.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there is another health problem that seems to be causing growing concern here and abroad, and I think this has largely been provoked by a series of independent scientific investigations, which have concluded that cigarette smoking and certain types of cancer and heart disease have a causal connection.
I have two questions. Do you and your health advisors agree or disagree with these findings, and secondly, what if anything should or can the Federal government do in the circumstances?
THE PRESIDENT: That matter is sensitive enough and the stock market is in sufficient difficulty--(laughter)--without my giving you an answer which is not based on complete information, which I don't have, and therefore perhaps we could-- I would be glad to respond to that question in more detail next week.
QUESTION: Sir, from your knowledge of the stock pile investigation which Senator Symington is developing for public consumption, I was wondering if you think the amount of money lost to the government there will in time dwarf the Billie Sol Estes defraud?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, as we have said, there is no evidence that the Billie Sol Estes fraud has cost the United States government any money.
QUESTION: Yes, I realize that---
THE PRESIDENT: There have been improprieties,-- but it has not been a-- but let me-- if I may finish-- (laughter)---
THE PRESIDENT: --- the amount of money which this case--which came out yesterday, which revealed that because of an intervention by certain public officials that it cost the Government 650 million dollars and the company made a million-dollar windfall, of course, when you compare the amounts of money, this is obviously a greater loss to the government. But I would not attempt to make a judgment of either case anti its ultimate effects until these investigations are completed, both Senator Symington's and the FBI.
QUESTION: Mr. President, the British appear to be facing difficulties in their negotiations with the Common Market group regarding safeguards for their trade with the Commonwealth nations. In the possible event that the British did of affiliate with the European Economic Community, would that cause us to reappraise our plan to cooperate with the Common Market?
THE PRESIDENT: No. Of course, we are going to cooperate with the Common Market. The Common Market is in existence. We believe that it will contribute to the political stability of Europe as well as its economic well-being if Great Britain should become a member. So we have supported the admission of Great Britain. If Great Britain does not join, of course, which we believe would be unfortunate, the Common Market, the Six, would still exist, and we would deal with the Six, and with Great Britain. But we think that the interests of Europe, the interests of the Free World, of the Atlantic community, would be best served by Great Britain being a member.
QUESTION: Mr. President, sir, would you be willing to participate with former President Eisenhower in a TV discussion of domestic issues before the country in the elections this fall?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would have to wait and see. Neither one of us are candidates this fall. (laughter) There will be many candidates. I have already stated that I would debate if I were a candidate in 1964, against whoever I was running against, and I haven't heard any suggestion that we debate this time. We would have to wait and see what the situation was. President Eisenhower and I are both appearing on a program this week on the necessity for the passage of an effective trade bill in cooperation, and I think that that is, in this case, a constructive relationship in the national interest. What next fall will bring we will have to wait and see.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you feel that the government pay raise you propose is inflationary, and how does that square with your productivity guidelines---
THE PRESIDENT: Not the proposal we sent. No, it is not. It is not inflationary. It fits within the guidelines.
QUESTION: Mr. President, as you know, the Indonesian government has accepted the Bunker proposal. In the meantime, The Netherlands has not. Meanwhile, guerrilla warfare activities are increasing in that area. What do you think is the prospect of future negotiations?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, as you know, the United States has been working very hard, with the help of Ambassador Bunker, to attempt to work out a solution which would make the kind of military action which is now taking place unnecessary. We have not had success. I believe that Ambassador Bunker is discussing this matter now with responsible officials of the United Nations to see what further action could usefully be taken. But I hope that the proposals of Ambassador Bunker would be considered very carefully by both sides because we would be very concerned if the situation in that section of the world disintegrated or degenerated into a complete military conflict between these two countries. So we are-- Ambassador Bunker is in New York today on that very matter.
(Merriman Smith, UPI) Thank you, Mr. President
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.