THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT AIRLINE MEETING Indian Treaty Room
10:20 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. First of all, I want to just thank all of you for your willingness to serve. I think I should say, because of the coverage that this initial meeting is getting, that the American people should know that this is not an ordinary commission; there's only a 90-day time window, it will require an enormous sacrifice of your personal time and effort to do all the massive work that needs to be done, and I very much appreciate your willingness to do it.
I'd also like to say a special word of appreciation to the Congress because of the bipartisan nature of the support that this commission had. We all made efforts to appoint people without regard to party, and instead based upon their knowledge of this issue and their commitment to doing something about it. And I think there is a real consensus in America that the people who make airplanes and equipment and the people who run our airlines are critical to our economic future. It's a big part of our trade surplus. There are millions of people whose jobs depend upon it.
In his most recent book, "Head to Head," the economist Lester Thurow argues that there are seven major areas of technology which will produce the lion's share of the high-wage, high-growth jobs of the 21st century, at least as far as we can see into that century, that aerospace is one of those areas, and that a nation with a stake in any of these technologies gives it up only at its peril.
We have enjoyed an enormously positive position in aerospace for a long time now. But if you look at our airlines, the airlines alone have lost as much money in the last four years as they made in the previous 60 years. We have got to take a look at what that means for us. If you look at the fabulous manufacturers and suppliers that we built up, there's no question that the partnership that those manufacturers were able to develop, not simply with the private airline companies, but also with the Defense Department made the economics of what they were doing work. As we build down our defense budget at the end of the Cold War, that imposes major new challenges for the airline manufacturers and for the major component parts, suppliers and producers.
So these are difficult issues. There are also serious questions about international competition. What kind of competition do we face and how can we face it in a way that is fair to the American workers and all the American people whose livelihoods depend on this.
The point I want to make to you is that I think that this is one of the major issues involved in shaping our competitive position in the world. And Governor Baliles and I were discussing this whole issue ten days ago -- he noted and I will repeat how remarkable it is that almost every major economic issue we face today ultimately comes down to whether we can compete and win in a global economy. And if so, what do we have to do to enable our people to do that and what kind of partnerships do we need in the public and private sector.
This is an area, I'll say again, where I think we have a major potential for bipartisan agreement to move forward, to protect and promote an enormously significant sector of our economy. I'm very optimistic about what we can do over the long run. A lot of you around this table know more personally than do I what great difficulties we have faced in the last few years and understand there are still some tough challenges ahead. But I feel strongly about this. I think we can do it. I think we have to do it.
If you look at the whole range of challenges facing the United States, the things that I've tried to come to grips with in the last four months -- trying to get the deficit under control, trying to develop a technology policy, trying to develop a more aggressive way of helping people adjust from the defense to a domestic economy and all the cutbacks that that involves -- a lot of that work will be substantially undermined unless we have a vibrant aerospace sector in our economy. It is critical to building a highwage future for America, not just in the states that are obviously affected, like Washington State -- and we have some members of Congress from Washington on this committee -- but throughout the United States. There's not a state, not a community in this country that won't be better off if we have a strong and vibrant aerospace economy.
Now, having said that, let me -- I want to introduce formally for whatever remarks he might wish to make, Governor Baliles. I asked him to chair this commission for a number of reasons: I've known him for many years; we were colleagues in the Governors' Conference together. In my former life, I had the privilege to serve with about 150 governors in the '70s, the '80s and the '90s. If I had to make a list -- if you forced me to make a list of the 10 best I served with, Jerry Baliles would certainly be on the list. He's one of the most intelligent public servants I've ever known. He also has the kind of mind that I think we need to bring to this task. He sorts out the wheat from the chaff pretty quickly, gets to the bottom line and synthesizes issues remarkably well. I think you will enjoy working with him, I think you will be glad you had the opportunity to do it, and I believe in no small measure because of the leadership he will bring to your work, there's a real chance that we'll all be very proud of the results that come out.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END10:30 A.M. EDT