July 27, 2011 | Commentary on President Ronald Reagan

Reagan Would Approve of Today's GOP

President Obama and others loath to rein in federal spending would have us believe that congressional Republicans have drifted far from their icon President Reagan and what he advocated regarding the national debt and how to deal with it.

The truth is that the Republican House's "Cut, Cap and Balance" legislation is a 2011 application of "Reaganomics."

Reaganomics, we must remember, was a multifaceted program that included spending control, deregulation, a stable monetary policy and tax cuts.

Reagan raised the debt ceiling some 18 times because he was confident that in the long run, his program would create jobs and substantially increase government revenues as they did, nearly doubling between 1980 and 1990.

Here is what President Reagan said in February 1981 in the middle of a serious recession: "We cannot delay in implementing an economic program aimed at both reducing tax rates to stimulate productivity and reducing the growth in government spending to reduce unemployment and inflation."

Reagan personally lobbied Congress, and the result was the passage of the Economic Tax Recovery Act with its 25% across-the-board reduction in personal income tax rates. The act produced 92 months of economic growth — the longest period of peacetime economic growth in the post-World War II period — and 17 million new jobs during the Reagan presidency.

At the same time, the Reagan administration in 1982 pushed hard for a Balanced Budget Amendment, which passed the Senate by 69-31 but failed to get the required two-thirds majority in the House.

Reagan never ignored the deficits — he just had other things on his mind, such as building up our military. While the national debt increased nearly threefold during his presidency, Reagan's "peace through strength" policy ended the Cold War at the bargaining table and not on the battlefield.

Here at home, by the end of the Reagan presidency, the federal deficit as a share of GDP had fallen from 6.3% in 1983 to 2.9% in 1989. Inflation was cut in half, the Dow Jones tripled and economic growth was averaging 4.6% annually.

Congressional Republicans are on the right Reagan track. To borrow a phrase from the 1980s, they need only stay the course and have faith in an economic plan that turned the worst U.S. economy since the Great Depression into one of the most prosperous periods in American history.

Lee Edwards, author of The Essential Ronald Reagan, is the distinguished fellow in conservative thought at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Lee Edwards, Ph.D. Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics
B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics

First appeared in USA Today