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Principles, Priorities, and Policies of President Reagan

President Reagan's first inaugural address, January 20, 1981, featured confident and inspirational statements about his principles and priorities. The top priority was the serious economic turmoil afflicting America. His proposed solutions would be based upon such conservative political principles as limiting the role of government in the economy and promoting private enterprise. He said,

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What principles and priorities of government did President Reagan discuss in his first inaugural address?

"We are a nation that has a government–not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the Earth. Our government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed. It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment... Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with the 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."

Only ten weeks into his presidency, President Reagan was shot and seriously wounded by a mentally disturbed man. During and after his recovery, President Reagan renewed his resolve to do good things for his country. He wrote in his diary: "Whatever happens now I owe my life to God and will try to serve him; every way I can."

President Reagan was determined to fix the economy. During his two terms as president, he proposed policies to cut taxes and help businesses. In 1981 he signed a law to reduce income taxes and help people save and invest their money. In 1986, he worked with Congress to cut taxes on corporations and individuals. President Reagan also reduced regulations on businesses. He believed that this would help the economy and create jobs.

The economy began to recover. There were sixty straight months of economic growth. More people were able to find work. There were nearly fifteen million more jobs in 1987 than in 1982. People paid less in taxes, but the federal government received more money from taxes. In 1982, for example, the federal government received $618 billion in tax revenue. Five years later, the amount of federal tax revenue had increased by $398 billion. This economic recovery produced new wealth for both the government and the people.

President Reagan's economic policies reflected his conservative principles of limited government and freedom of private enterprise. However, he neither downsized the federal government nor reduced federal regulations of business as much as he wanted. After all, throughout his eight-year presidency, the Democrats were the majority in the House of Representatives, and they tended to oppose the president's policy proposals. The 1980, 1982, and 1984 congressional elections brought a slight majority of Republicans to the Senate. But in the 1986 mid-term election, the Democrats won commanding majorities of seats in both the House and Senate. Thus, during both of his terms, the Republican President Reagan had to negotiate compromises with leaders of the Democrats in Congress to achieve some, if not all or even most, of what he wanted. He was a very able negotiator, who used his enormous popularity with voters to occasionally influence Democrats in Congress to work with him. Nonetheless, President Reagan was never in a political position to achieve all of his economic policy goals.

A big disappointment to some of President Reagan's supporters was the continuation of big budget deficits. The high levels of federal government spending and debt seemed a contradiction of President Reagan's outspoken commitment to limited government. However, much of the increased spending went to building the capacity of America's military forces. National defense and security, together with economic recovery, was a major priority of President Reagan. He intended to challenge America's Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union, more vigorously than previous presidents had done. And he believed that America needed both economic and military strength in order to win.




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