Bill Clinton with Ronald Wilson Reagan (Part 92)

President Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton attending the Dinner Honoring the Nation’s Governors. 2/22/87.

ronald reagan debates walter mondale in 1984 Presidential race second clip

Lee Edwards of the Heritage Foundation wrote an excellent article on Ronald Reagan and the events that transpired during the Reagan administration,  and I wanted to share it with you. Here is the fifth portion:

Though Reagan promised deep cuts in domestic spending, that did not turn out to be the case. Indeed, overall welfare spending increased during the Reagan presidency — primarily because Reagan could not overcome, even with vetoes and the bully pulpit of the White House, the spending impulses of Congress, which, after all, signed the checks. Throughout his two terms, he was confronted by Democrats still enthralled by the New Deal as well as Republicans (particularly in the Senate) still mesmerized by its political appeal.

When the administration proposed to abolish the Department of Education in 1981, Howard Baker, the first Republican Senate majority leader since 1954, actively opposed abolition.[x] Baker wanted to remain majority leader and was worried that getting rid of the department would alienate too many voters.

Reagan was not discouraged. He understood he had to proceed prudently with cuts, one billion dollars at a time — he could not just pull the plug on the federal government. Over the past fifty years, millions of people had grown dependent upon it.

Many people remember Reagan saying in his inaugural address that “government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” But the new president also said:

It is not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work — work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.[xi]

Here was no radical libertarian with a copy of Atlas Shrugged in his back pocket but a traditional conservative guided by the prudential arguments of The Federalist. Reagan was a modern federalist, echoing James Madison’s call for a balance between the authority of the national and state governments. He also shared Madison’s concern about “the abridgement of the freedom of the people” by the “gradual and silent encroachment of those in power.” As he later said in his 1990 autobiography, “We had strayed a great distance from our founding fathers’ vision of America.”[xii]

He was determined to recapture that lost vision. As he stated in his inaugural, he would begin by seeking to “curb the size and influence of the federal establishment.” Revealing his pragmatism, his immediate target was the welfare excesses of Lyndon B. Johnson, not the long-established social programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt. As he wrote in his diary in January 1982, “The press is trying to paint me as trying to undo the New Deal. I’m trying to undo the Great Society.”[xiii]

It was a slow uneven process, always made more difficult by a Democratic House of Representatives. He was obliged to allow federal spending for welfare — work programs, education and training, social services, medicine, food and housing — to rise sharply; expenditures almost doubled from $106.1 billion (in real or nominal dollars) in 1980 to $173 billion in 1988.[xiv] Nor did Reagan’s own cabinet secretaries protest when the increases benefited their agency or department.

Conservative critics like the Heritage Foundation’s Stuart Butler did not try to hide their disappointment and frustration. Six years into the Reagan presidency, Butler wrote that “the basic structure of the Great Society is still firmly intact …. virtually no program has been eliminated.”[xv]

But Reagan reduced federal outlays in some welfare areas — such as regional development, commerce and housing credit — from $63 billion in 1980 to just over $49 billion in 1987, a decrease of about 22 percent. And the size of the federal civilian work force declined by about five percent, much of it traceable to conservatives like Gerald Carmen at GSA, Raymond Donovan at Labor and the OPM’s Donald Devine, described by the Washington Post as “Reagan’s terrible swift sword of the civil service.”[xvi] The agencies that led the personnel downsizing were Education, down twenty-four percent; Housing and Urban Development, down twenty-two percent; Office of Personnel Management, down nineteen percent; and Government Services Administration and Labor, both down fifteen percent.

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