Former President Gerald Ford said Tuesday that the approximately $200-billion deficit is the nation's biggest threat and predicted that congressional cutbacks in defense spending, foreign aid and welfare and government payrolls would start correcting that imbalance.
Speaking to a crowd of about 5,000 members of the National School Boards Assn. at the Anaheim Convention Center, Ford noted that the "four or five" recessions in the United States since the Vietnam War have been largely caused by outside influences such as OPEC price increases in 1974 and 1979. Ford said that if deficits aren't reduced during non-recessionary times, "we could end up with some serious economic problems in this country by 1986-87."
Maintains Hawkish Stance
The former commander-in-chief stopped short of endorsing defense cuts personally, stressing, "I was a hawk, I am a hawk and I expect to be a hawk." He predicted that Congress would shave President Reagan's proposed 6% increase in the military allotment (to a total of about $290 billion) to about 1%.
"I basically support the President's programs," said Ford. "The difference between us is that I believe you must stretch out (the production of new weapons)."
In addition to predicted congressional cutbacks of 2 to 3 percentage points in Reagan's plans for spending on government payrolls, food stamps, welfare and similar programs, Ford urged legislation to impose an $18-billion to $19-billion ceiling on foreign aid.
Noting that many U.S. allies are requesting increased amounts of aid, Ford said such payments must be balanced against internal developments. "If we're going to ask our farmers, educators, small businessmen and other groups to tighten their belts and share in the financial difficulties, it's perfectly legitimate to ask some of our allies to join in that effort," he said.
Supports Budget Amendments
While he supports two proposed constitutional amendments designed to fight the deficit--one requiring a balanced budget and the other giving the President power to veto specific items in the budget--Ford said that neither will succeed before 1990, so cutbacks are the swiftest way to attack the problem now.
Ford also told the assembled school board members that his experience on college campuses belies recent reports on the deteriorating state of secondary and primary education. Falling scholastic aptitude test scores and the rising numbers (about 23 million) of functionally illiterate American adults aren't reflected in the more than 600 classes and lectures he has held at 134 universities, he said.
"In other words, I've seen at the grass-roots level in every one of the 50 states the people your high school systems have turned out and, in my opinion, they're first class," he said, adding that the approximate $7 billion Reagan allotted for education in 1985-86 is "about right."
Preparing for Hope Tournament
At a press conference after his 30-minute speech, Ford also commented on the killing of a U.S. Army major by a Soviet sentry in East Germany. "There's really not much else that can be done," he said, stressing that the Geneva arms control talks should continue unaffected by the incident.
Ford, a resident of Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs, said he would return home to play in the Bob Hope Classic Golf Tournament this week and related for the school board members Hope's "commercializing of my golfing inadequacies."
The comedian, Ford said, revels in telling audiences that the former President is "the only man who can play four courses at one time" and how he once lost three balls in the ball-washing machine. Ford retaliated by noting that Hope has always criticized American Presidents since the days of Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge.