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Committee on Financial Services

United States House of Representatives

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Opening Statement by
Chairman Spencer Bachus
On HR 3591, a bill to provide the
Congressional Gold Medal to Ronald and Nancy Reagan

 

Ronald Wilson Reagan became the 40th President of the United States on January 20, 1981. It was a time when America seemed to have lost hope as a result of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, the oil crisis, and a failing economy. We were divided, drifting, seemingly void of purpose. Then, someone emerged who never doubted us or our destiny. That man -- Ronald Reagan -- personally embarked on a mission to restore hope in the American dream. He set forth two goals: first, revitalize the American economy, and second, rebuild our military capability and restore our position in world leadership.

To achieve these twin goals, much of his tenure as President was dedicated to the monumental struggle against the entrenched interests in the Nation's capitol. President Reagan stood as an example of a selfless, optimistic, humorous and visionary leader in the crucible of Washington politics. He gave generously of himself and encouraged all of us not to give up on the American dream and to dare to believe in it again.

I, for one, have missed his leadership, his confidence in himself and the American people, and his genuine "what you see is what you get" style – no airs and no pretensions. I suspect that a great many of the American people miss these values as well. This is most notably demonstrated in this year’s presidential campaign where we see almost every candidate attempting to take up President Reagan’s mantle of conservative leadership in order to gain the support of those who find themselves so drawn to Ronald Reagan and his wish that "every dawn be a great new beginning for America and every evening bring us closer to that shining city upon a hill."

Many will remember President Reagan for turning around the American economic machine and leading us like Moses out of the barren desert sands of inflation, gas shortages, and unemployment. Others will remember him for restoring America to the leadership of the free world and challenging former Soviet President Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." But, in the end, President Reagan will be remembered and honored most for his moral courage and his never yielding dedication to the ideals that have made this country great. If today’s historians, looking back at the end of the 20th Century, get it right, they will surely say that Ronald Reagan, more than any other person, helped to restore the American dream. And what was the American dream for Ronald Reagan? In 1992 Reagan expressed this in his wish that all "Americans never forget your heroic origins, never fail to seek divine guidance, and never lose your natural, God-given optimism." – 1992 Republican National Convention.

I must also mention the great strength provided by former First Lady Nancy Reagan, with her constant presence in helping, advising, and protecting the President. She became a leader in the anti-drug movement and worked tirelessly to educate the nation's youth about the harm of drug use. She coined the phrase 'Just Say No,' which became the guiding phrase of our nation’s drug prevention efforts. Mrs. Reagan understood that the bully pulpit was a powerful tool in the war on drugs, and our nation experienced a steady decline in teen drug use throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Today, as she consoles and strengthens President Reagan in his struggle with Alzheimer’s, she has become a symbol of hope for all those who care for a loved one battling disease and illness. Mrs. Reagan is certainly a model of courage for my mother who must daily care for my father during his own battle with Alzheimer’s.

Before hearing from the witnesses, I would like to dwell for just a moment on three ways in which President Reagan restored hope in America: his domestic policy, his foreign policy, and his courage to not only keep his values but to restore them in countless Americans who had lost sight of their own .

The Economic revival of America

Twenty years ago, the United States was mired in an economic malaise. As a nation, we were experiencing the worst economic chaos since the Great Depression. Interest rates as high as 21% made owning a home an impossible dream for many, inflation rates of 12.5% (it was 14%, wasn't it?) ate into savings, and an unemployment rate of 7.5% (8 million Americans out of work -- I think making it people instead of an unemployment rate makes it something people can grasp) made jobs very difficult to find. We had oil shortages, we had a stagnant economy, and we even had something the economists said could never happen-high inflation at the same time as a low economic growth. They had to coin a new term for it -- "stagflation."

To restore the economic vitality, Reagan championed a four-point solution: 1) reduce tax rates across the board, 2) regulatory reform, 3) slow the growth of federal spending, and 4) focus monetary policy on price stability. Tax reform was one of his first achievements. When he took office, marginal tax rates were as high as 70%, and there was little incentive for people to risk their money, let alone apply their energies, when the government was taking seven dollars out of every ten dollars they might earn by that activity. As a result of the Reagan program, we had a 25% reduction in tax rates across the board over three years.

Regulatory reform was also successful, as reformers in his administration rigorously cut back on needless or burdensome regulations. One quantitative example of Reagan's success: when he took office, the Federal Register amounted to 87,000 pages every year. By 1985, the total pages of regulations were almost slashed in half, down to around 47,000 pages.

Slowing the growth of federal spending was the most difficult of Reagan's objectives and in some ways the least successful, but at least the President did slow the growth of the federal bureaucracy. And, even more importantly, he shifted the balance of power towards the forces trying to reduce the size of government. While it would take another revolution in 1994 to finally turn the tide on deficit spending, Reagan more than any President reversed the trend begun by Roosevelt to expand government programs and spending.

And finally, Ronald Reagan had the vision to choose Alan Greenspan as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. And to work with him to achieve a stable monetary policy, which finally relieved the economy and the American people of the ravages high inflation that plagued the 1970s.

The result of his economic program was 92 straight months of economic expansion, the second longest period of peacetime economic growth in history. And indeed this was the start of a period of economic growth which, with the exception of a nine-month recession during the early '90s, has continued to this day.

Foreign Policy

President Reagan had an aggressive foreign policy record that was distinguished by the fight against international terrorism and communism in Africa, Asia, and Central America. Ronald Reagan squarely faced the Soviet Union calling it the "Evil Empire," and faced it down with the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). He even dared to call upon Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall - something no one thought possible - and it fell along with Soviet communism. He ended the cold war and he made history.

Ronald Reagan's presidential legacy as the "Great Communicator" has continued even into his twilight years. As a victim to Alzheimer's disease, he comforted a nation by saying, "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."

He brought to the Presidency a sense of confidence in the American way, restored U.S. pride, and reenergized America's leadership on the international front. Under his leadership, an entire nation re-awakened, confident, optimistic, bold and proud. One historian wrote, "Reagan does not argue for American ideals, for American values. He embodies them."



 

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