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What Would Ronald Reagan Do?

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CONNOLLY of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, when we look at this economy, we should ask: What would Ronald Reagan do? When he took office in 1981, President Reagan inherited an economy in deep recession. During the past 3 years, we've heard a number of current Republicans laud the accomplishments of Ronald Reagan in spurring economic recovery during that decade.

As they often point out, President Reagan cut taxes. Of course, so did President Obama. The Recovery Act, which I proudly supported, cut taxes for 95 percent of all Americans, averaging $400 for individuals and $800 for families. When that tax cut expired--and when Republicans refused to extend it--I was again proud to join President Obama to enact the payroll tax cut, averaging $1,000 per family. But tax cuts alone do not make a robust recovery.

The other notable thing Ronald Reagan did was preside over a Nation with a sharp increase in public sector employment from local, State, and Federal levels. Because, while today's Republicans may try to argue otherwise, teaching jobs are jobs; firefighters have real jobs; police jobs are jobs. In fact, three of the last four economic recoveries had one thing in common: public sector employment increased. Two and a half years into the recovery from 2001, total public sector employment was 1 percent higher; 2 1/2 years into the recovery from the 1980 recession, total public sector employment was 3 percent higher. And 2 1/2 years into the recovery from the 1980 recession, total public sector employment under Ronald Reagan was almost 3 1/2 percent higher than it was at the start of the recovery.

In contrast, today's recovery from the recent recession has seen total public sector employment decrease by 2.5 percent, largely because the Republicans have gotten their way in trying to shrink the public sector. Real jobs were lost. Had total public sector employment merely held steady over the last 2 1/2 years, the unemployment rate today would be 7.8 percent, not 8.2. But instead, we've lost 600,000 public sector jobs: teachers, police officers, firefighters, librarians, and other dedicated public servants. If the goal truly were to foster a robust economic recovery, you'd think today's Republicans would be looking at how the Nation worked its way out of previous recessions. But, obviously, that's not the case.

Last September, President Obama put forward the American Jobs Act, a proposal to cut taxes on workers and businesses to incentivize hiring and to fund necessary infrastructure improvements. Economists predicted the American Jobs Act would have added up to 1 million new jobs and spurred GDP growth by an extra 1.5 percent.

These are proposals that have traditionally earned bipartisan support. For example, one of the single largest infrastructure projects ever was under the creation of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the interstate highway program. In 1982, while he was still working toward economic recovery, Ronald Reagan proposed a highway and bridge repair program to create jobs in the public sector. But, sadly, Republican opposition has kept the American Jobs Act from even coming to the floor for a vote.

Many Republicans decried the use of additional revenue to help offset any increase in national debt. Apparently, they forgot that when faced with rising deficits, Ronald Reagan looked to revenue increases, broadening the tax base, closing loopholes, and raising taxes. Yes, he raised taxes in 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987.

It's unfortunate that today's Republicans have lost sight of the value of investing in America in a fiscally responsible manner, because the Nation's construction industry has been the hardest hit. America lost more than 2 million construction jobs in the recession that began in 2007.

Infrastructure investments don't just create jobs, they also repair dangerous bridges and make our roadways safer. They build needed schools to lessen overcrowding; they renovate hospitals and improve water treatment plants.

As part of the Recovery Act, we enacted the Build America Bonds program that leveraged $4 billion in Federal funds to $181 billion in private sector funding, completing more than 2,000 projects in every State in the country. I introduced a bill to extend this successful program because there remain unmet needs in our communities, and there are millions of construction workers awaiting the opportunity to return to work and communities that would benefit from the projects. We haven't even had a hearing on that bill.

Mr. Speaker, Dwight Eisenhower did not subscribe to the current Republican mantra that investing in America was something to be shunned. Ronald Reagan did not share the current Republican dictum that serving one's country in public service is somehow a less-than-noble endeavor and the way to prosperity is through devastating cuts to the public sector.

Congress must act to ensure long-term fiscal responsibility, but it should not come at the expense of millions of Americans struggling to get back to work. As we contemplate our economic policies, we really should ask: What would Ronald Reagan do?

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