WASHINGTON -- President Johnson today announced a surprise slash in federal spending below current levels. He also ordered a cutback in nuclear production in a dramatic bid to end the "provocative and wasteful" arms race.
Johnson proposed spending $97.9 billion in fiscal 1965 -- a cut of $500 million from the $98.4 billion expected to be spent during the current year. He said this would mean a deficit cut of $4.9 billion, far below previous expectations.
In his first State of the Union message to Congress, the President also challenged Russia to follow his lead in ordering a 25 per cent reduction in output of enriched uranium -- an atomic explosive -- and closing down four plutonium piles.
An important step
He said such action by Russia, coupled with new disarmament proposals this country will advance at Geneva, would be an important step toward arms control and "our ultimate goal ... a world made safe for diversity."
The 2,852-word address, shortest State of the Union message since Franklin D. Roosevelt's in 1934, was televised and broadcast to the nation.
On the domestic front, Johnson declared "unconditional war on poverty" and urged the lawmakers to make the second session of the 88th Congress the best in history by cutting taxes, passing civil rights legislation and providing medical care for the aged.
He also called for reform of "our tangled transportation and transit policies," the "most effective, efficient foreign aid program ever" and more homes, schools, libraries and hospitals than ever were authorized in any previous session of Congress.
Then, obviously mindful of the approaching national political conventions and the election campaign, Johnson told the lawmakers:
"It can be done by this summer."
Asks Tax Cut
In calling for approval of the $11 billion tax cut bill by the end of January, Johnson urged Congress to lower the basic withholding rate from 15 to 14 per cent to give wage earners an estimated $200 million a month in added buying buying power.
"That tax bill has been thoroughly discussed for a year," the President said. "Now we need action. The new budget clearly allows it. Our taxpayers surely deserve it. Our economy strongly demands it."
He said that while more than 70 million Americans had jobs in 1963, "we will soon need more than 75 million." Likewise, he said, the nation's output of goods and services hit a rate of $600 billion last year but "it easily could and should be still $30 billion higher."
The President outlined details of his attack on poverty only in general terms. But he said it would involve state and local efforts as well as federal action and would be aimed at "that one fifth of all American families with incomes too small to meet their basic needs."
Many Suffer Despair
"Unfortunately many Americans live on the outskirts of hope some because of their poverty, some because of their color, and all too many because of both," he said.
"Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity."
Johnson said he opposed a reduction of the 40-hour work week to 35 hours because it would increase costs and invite inflation. But he suggested that the question of paying higher overtime rates be explored to encourage employers to hire more workers at regular pay, thus creating jobs without raising costs.
In the foreign policy field the President said the United States "must be constantly prepared for the worst and constantly acting for the best -- strong enough to win a war and wise enough to prevent one."
"We shall neither act as aggressors nor tolerate acts of aggression," he said. "We intend to bury no one -- and we do not intend to be buried."
Toward this end, Johnson outlined a 10-point program featuring military strength and alliances coupled with a bold search for East-West agreements "which can enlarge the hopes of all while violating the interests of none."
The program also envisioned "increased use of our food as an instrument of peace," expanded world trade and "an expedition to the moon in this decade -- in cooperation with other powers if possible, alone if necessary."
The size of the budget cut announced by Johnson for the 12 months starting July 1 was easily the biggest surprise in his message. He had said previously he would try to keep the budget at $100 billion or less but he had not been expected to go below the Kennedy total.
Reductions Not Cited
The President did not say where the reductions would be made, leaving that for the budget message he will send to Congress Jan. 20. But he said they could be achieved without sacrificing essential human welfare programs unless "we fritter away our opportunity in needless, senseless quarrels."
In a possible reference to past legislative delays, he added:
"Here in Congress, you can demonstrate effective legislative leadership by discharging the public business with clarity and dispatch, voting each proposal up or voting it down, but at least bringing it to a fair and final vote.
"Let us carry forward the plans and programs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy -- not because of our sorrow or sympathy -- but because they are right."
"Honest and Frugal"
For his part, Johnson pledged a "progressive administration which is efficient, honest and frugal." He said his new budget, for example, will be the smallest in proportion to national output since 1951, when federal spending was a fraction over $44 billion.
He said it calls for "substantial reduction in federal employment, a feat accomplished only once before in the past 10 years." It also calls for the smallest number of civilian defense employees since 1950 without sacrificing military strength in any way, he added.
"But it is not a stand-still budget," Johnson said, "for America cannot afford to stand still. Our economy is more complex. Our people's needs are expanding."
He said it was possible to meet these needs by closing down obsolete installations, curtailing less urgent federal programs, cutting back where wise and "by insisting on a dollar's worth for a dollar spent."
With these savings, he said, "I am able to recommend in this reduced budget the most federal support in history for education, for health, for retraining the unemployed, and for helping the economically and physically handicapped."
Johnson conceded that his war against poverty would not be easily won.
"It will not be a short or easy struggle -- no single weapon or strategy will suffice," he said. "But we shall not rest until that war is won.
"The richest nation on earth can afford to win it.
"We cannot afford to lose it."
Asserting that $1,000 spent to salvage an unemployable youth can yield $40,000 or more in his lifetime, Johnson vowed to pursue poverty wherever it exists -- from city slum and small town to migrant worker camp and Indian reservation.
"Our chief weapon in a more pin-pointed attack will be better schools, better health, better homes, better training and job opportunities to help more Americans -- especially young Americans -- escape from squalor and misery."
Notes Special Efforts
Johnson specifically mentioned a special effort in the chronically distressed Appalachian area, expansion of the area redevelopment program, work projects for "jobless, aimless, hopeless youngsters," and expanded food stamp program and a national service corps.
"We must modernize our unemployment insurance and establish a high level commission on automation," he said. "If we have the brainpower to invent these machines, we have the brainpower to make certain they are a boon and not a bane to humanity."
Johnson concluded his address by saying that Americans in the seven weeks since the assassination of President Kennedy "have learned anew that nothing is so enduring as faith and nothing is so degrading as hate ...
"I ask you now, in the Congress and in the country, to join with me in expressing and fulfilling that faith in working for a nation that is free from want and a world that is free from hate, a world that is free from hate, a world of peace and justice, freedom and abundance, for our time and all time to come."