Statement by the President at a Cabinet Meeting: The Great Society

November 19, 1964

1. Building the Great Society will require a major effort on the part of every Federal agency in two directions:

– First, formulating imaginative new ideas and programs; and

– Second, carrying out hard-hitting, tough-minded reforms in existing programs.

2. All of you, I am sure, are convinced of the need of new ideas. I have been impressed with the imagination and vision you have shown in this area. But I want to impress on you the equally essential need to be bold in reforming existing programs.

3. The Great Society will require a substantial investment. This means:

– That as a Nation we cannot afford to waste a single dollar of our resources on outmoded programs, which once may have been essential, but which time and events have overtaken.

– That as a Government we must get the most out of every dollar of scarce budget resources, reforming old programs and using the savings for the new programs of the Great Society. The Congress and the American people will provide the budgetary means to build the Great Society only if we take positive steps to show that we are spending only where we legitimately need to spend. Only if we are imaginative in reform will we be allowed to be imaginative in new programs.

4. Reform comes in two packages:

First, we simply cannot afford to keep on doing the same thing year after year merely because that’s the way we did it in the past. In particular, we cannot afford to spend scarce budget dollars

– to meet needs that no longer exist;

– to alleviate hardships that have long since been overcome; or

– to subsidize services that can be provided adequately at full cost.

Second, in what we do undertake, we must get the maximum value per dollar spent. I will continue to insist, as I have in the past, on increased productivity and greater efficiency.

5. Each of you must take a cold, hard look at your existing programs. I expect each of you to be as bold and as imaginative in reforming ongoing programs as in proposing new ones.

6. I think there are many cases where boldness in reform will pay off.

To be sure, every program needing reform has a pressure group which will fight reform. But I want to make the decisions as to those fights which it will be worthwhile to take on and those which it won’t. I want you to give me plenty of such decisions to make.

If we are going to make an impact — and history will find no excuse for us if we don’t — there will be no better time than this coming session of Congress.

7. I need your help in this. I depend upon your sharpness of vision, and your knowledge of the programs in your department to identify the reforms needed.

The speed with which we can move ahead to the Great Society will depend upon how well you do this job

– now,

– in this budget, and

– in this legislative program.

I think it is also very important that each of you get to know personally the new Members of Congress, Republicans as well as Democrats. We are planning a reception here from 6 to 8 p.m. on December 9, for the new Democratic Members of the House and Senate, and I want each of you to attend. This will not suffice, of course, for personal efforts on your part to get to know these men and women. In the long and short runs, I believe this personal relationship between senior members of the administration and new Members of Congress will return handsome dividends.