Ronald Wilson Reagan (Part 93)

President Reagan and Bob Hope performing at the Bob Hope Salute to the United Sates Air Force 40th Anniversary Celebration at the Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, North Carolina. 5/10/87.

the first presidential debate between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale in 1984

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 sixth portion:

Five principles guided the Reagan budget cuts: The growth of government should be curbed; federal benefits should be focused primarily on the poor; benefits should be contingent on an individual’s effort to leave welfare; decisions on social programs should be returned to the states and localities; and finally, programs that don’t work should be eliminated. At the heart of all these principles was a simple proposition: entitlements as the “underlying principle of American social policy” should be replaced by “benefits contingent on responsible behavior.”[xvii]

But in practice these principles were sometimes shunted aside — as in the case of the politically popular Medicare program. The “most serious policy error of the Reagan administration,” conservative analyst Ronald F. Docksai asserted, was its support for the expansion of Medicare to provide catastrophic acute care protection for the elderly. Reagan believed, correctly, that senior citizens should not be impoverished by a serious or persistent illness. But instead of seeking legislation to give private insurance companies an incentive to offer catastrophic hospital and long-term care insurance, the president was “persuaded by administration officials and Republican lawmakers” to endorse an expansion of Medicare and the federal government. Conservative congressmen who favored a private-sector approach to provide quality care and constrain federal spending were undercut by the White House and labeled “anti-elderly” by liberal Democrats.[xviii]

Reagan’s personal feelings about Social Security had not changed since his 1964 televised address for Barry Goldwater when he had suggested the introduction of “voluntary features” into the system so that “those who can make better provisions for themselves” be allowed to do so.[xix] But he had come to accept, reluctantly, that Social Security was an issue that Republicans could not touch without getting badly burned. Two months into his presidency, biographer Lou Cannon wrote, the White House was given a congressional initiative that would have sharply slowed the growth of Social Security and reduced the budget deficit. The device was a freeze or severe reduction in automatic cost-of-living allowances (COLAs), which had increased Social Security payments so much that the program now accounted for 21 percent of the total budget.

Reagan was tempted, but as he told Senator Peter Domenici of New Mexico, the author of the amendment and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, “I made a commitment during the campaign not to cut Social Security, and … I don’t want to go back on my word.”[xx] Other senators, including John Tower and William Armstrong of Colorado, endorsed Domenici’s approach, but Reagan would not be moved. And regardless of the modest bipartisan support in the Senate, liberal House Democrats would have relished an opportunity to charge that Republicans were once again trying to reduce the size of the monthly Social Security checks on which millions of senior Americans depended.

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