On February 6, 1911 President Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois. He was a radio and film star in the 1930s and 1940s and became the president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1947. Reagan left acting behind for the public sector. He was elected governor of California in 1966 and President of the United States in 1980. Read more about the domestic policies of President Reagan below.
In the presidential election, Reagan carried forty-four states. In his First Inaugural Address, he stressed the importance of persevering and the power of individuals to control their own destinies. Government, he said, was not the solution to the problem, government was the problem. He asked, “If no one among us is capable of governing himself, them who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
Throughout his presidency, Reagan worked to decrease the size of the federal government, and advocated policies and reforms that he believed empowered individuals. He called for thirty percent tax cut over three years. Congress passed a twenty-five percent cut, which Reagan signed into law. In eight years as President, he signed a total of nine tax bills providing across-the-board tax cuts.
Reagan also worked to dramatically cut federal spending on domestic programs, because of his concerns about the constitutionality of these programs. He called for $41.1 billion in budget cuts, mostly from Great Society programs. While not touching Medicare and Social Security, Reagan approved cuts in federal education programs, food stamp programs, workplace programs, and other non-military domestic programs.
Believing that the US had neglected the military after the Vietnam War, and as the Cold War continued, Reagan asked for increased funds to strengthen the armed forces. By the time he left office, military spending was approximately forty percent greater than at the height of the Vietnam War.
The decrease in taxes and increase in military spending resulted in the biggest budget deficits in the country’s history to that time. The deficits continued each year, but Reagan cowed to veto any tax increases Congress passed.
Unemployment peaked at 10.8 percent in December 1982, higher than any time since the Great Depression, and then steadily went down through the rest of Reagan’s time in office. Sixteen million new jobs were created, and inflation decreased significantly. By the mid 1980s, the economy was booming again.
In 1988, Ronald Reagan, referring to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s initiatives, declared that the US had fought a war on poverty but that poverty had won. Today, historians and economists debate the constitutionality as well as the outcomes of Reagan’s policies. Reagan’s critics assert that his tax plan unfairly benefited the wealthy, and blamed “trickle-down economics” for producing large deficits that deepened the national debt.
How would you judge the wisdom of President Reagan’s domestic policies?
To learn more about Ronald Reagan and other presidents, see our curriculum Presidents and the Constitution.