Flashback: ‘How Hard Will He Fight?’

Editor’s Note: Conservatives — unlike liberals — learn from the past. The new "HUMAN EVENTS Flashback" will be a weekly feature with which we will illuminate news with HUMAN EVENTS’ historical archives.

Soon after President Ronald Reagan’s seventh State of the Union address nearly 19 years ago, HUMAN EVENTS congratulated him in a lead editorial for forcefully stating conservative goals, but questioned "How Hard Will He Fight?" to cut federal spending.

To add drama to his speech Reagan hauled in more than 43 pounds of budget materials that comprised a pork-laden $600-billion Continuing Resolution — which he had reluctantly signed.

"Never again," he promised. Reagan demanded that members of Congress repeal nearly $5 million worth of pet projects, but HUMAN EVENTS editors wondered if his "feistiness may be reserved largely for his speeches, not for crucial legislative battles."

Today, conservatives are confronted with a similar dilemma. President Bush pledged in his seventh State of the Union address to balance the federal budget by 2012 after grossly expanding costly entitlement programs.

And again, this week the Democrat Congress has proposed a pork-laden continuing resolution filled with projects like “cranberry and blueberry research studies” that Reagan mocked in 1988.

But, pressured and cheered on by conservatives Reagan fulfilled his pledge to never again pass such a bill. In October 1988, the Democrat Congress passed all their appropriations bills on time. Reagan told the press, “I said in January that the next time Congress pulled such a stunt: Well, never again. Well, I’m happy to report that today, Oct. 1, marks the beginning of the fiscal year and ….all the government’s budgetary work is done.”

Conservatives today should challenge President Bush just as HUMAN EVENTS did Reagan in 1988. In his recent State of the Union speech, Bush said "So let us work together to reform the budget process … expose every earmark to the light of day and to a vote in Congress … and cut the number and cost of earmarks at least in half by the end of this session."

Once again, HUMAN EVENTS editors ask, "how hard will he fight?"

Here’s a look back to our 1988 piece which is a timely reminder of conservatives’ past success in blocking this costly practice.

Amanda B. Carpenter, assistant editor of HUMAN EVENTS


Reagan Forcefully States Conservatives Goals, but HUMAN EVENTS pressed, ‘How Hard Will He Fight?’

February 6, 1988

Judging from his State of the Union address, coupled with the 39-page legislative message sent to Congress on the same day, the President still has the same zest for political battle. He hit virtually all the hot buttons for conservatives giving the GOP a superb platform to run on in 1988.

Economics and budget cutting? The President scored big by ridiculing Congress for sending him that $600-billion mega bill last year, secretly stuffed with such porky projects as cranberry and blueberry research studies, the study of crawfish, and the commercialization of wild flowers (and, he could have added, but declined to do so our of respect for the Speaker sitting just behind him, special goodies for Jim Wright’s Forth Worth district.)

"And that’s not to mention," the President continued, drawing laughs, ironically from the creators of the legislative monstrosity, "the $.5 million so that people from developing nations could come here and watch Congress work."

The President underscored his point about congressional irresponsibility by holding aloft 43 pounds of budget materials that Congress whisked through to approval, and then put the lawmakers to the test: He pledged that within 30 days he would request them to repeal about $5 billion of those boondoggles they had quietly snaked into their spending behemoth. All in all, it was a nice piece of theater.

He renewed his demand for the line-item veto, embraced the balanced budget amendment and, in his legislative message, sprang the idea of capital gains tax reduction, which seems to be making great headway among the GOP presidential candidates, especially Vice President George Bush and New York Rep. Jack Kemp.

"The most important piece of unfinished [tax reform] business," said the President, "is to reduce the capital gains tax rate to the level that will generate the savings and investment necessary for future economic growth."

Defense? He deplored recent cuts in the military budget, and strongly backed what many have feared he might give away — the Strategic Defense Initiative. He called it an "insurance policy" against "violations of arms agreements" and "Against a nuclear accident — a Chernobyl of the sky." It is, he argued, a "cornerstone of our security strategy for the 1990s and beyond. And when it is ready, we will deploy it."

He had strong and encouraging words for the freedom fighters in Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia, saying, "their cause is our cause. Freedom." And he touched on a score of other matters near and dear to conservative hearts: Legislation to end all federal funding of abortion, the expansion of free trade zones, the selection of judicial conservatives, prayer in the schools, etc.

It was a nice message, deftly delivered, full of spunk, but what’s needed now is follow-through.

What conservative worry about — especially based on what transpired last year — is that the President’s feistiness may be reserved largely for his speeches, not for crucial legislative battles.

Take that $600 billion Continuing Resolution that the President had so much fun ridiculing at Congress’ expense. If it was so terrible, as he no splendidly argues, why wasn’t it vetoed last year when Ronald Reagan had a real shot at driving his point home, a real shot at rescission of those boondoggles that he says he would like to see canceled?

Maybe Judge Robert Bork, never would have made it to the High Court, but virtually every objective observer now believes the White House failed to mount the kind of energetic campaign that was needed so t hat he could have a genuine shot at winning.

The Administration faces a crucial Contra vote on February 3, but the retreats in requests for the freedom fighters has been conspicuous. Last year, the Administration was boldly talking about pushing through a $270 million military and economic aid package; then there was talk of $100 million; two weeks ago; the figure had dwindled to $50 million, and now it’s down to $36.25 million, with only 10 per cent of it lethal, and even that portion to be held in "escrow" for at least two months. That’s quite a comedown.

Sandinista "concessions" toward democratization, as demanded by the Arias peace plan, have made things more difficult for the Administration. But congressional supporters of Contra aid, such as Rep. Mickey Edwards (R.-Okla.), who has been leading the fight in the House, stress that the Administration would have been in a far better position to secure Contra support if it had begun campaigning for backing in earnest of a good deal earlier.

The President says a peaceful solution can be achieved in Afghanistan, but only "if the Soviet Union withdraws its forces promptly and completely and allows Afghans themselves to determine their political future."

He’s right, as usual. But so confusing has our posture been that a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, including such representatives as Jim Courter (R.-N.J.), Jack Kemp (R.-N.Y.), Henry Hyde (R.-Ill.), Charles Wilson (D.-Tex.), Ed Boland (D.-Mass.) and Ed Jenkins (D.-Ga.), wrote a letter to the President on January 27, expressing deep concern about the fact that the State Department has apparently approved a plan to stop aiding the mujahedin before the Soviet have withdrawn their troops.

"Although you told the press last month that it would be a serious error to end aid," said the letter, "and thus disarm the resistance until there has been a complete Soviet withdrawal and self-determination for the Afghans, Secretary Shultz said on January 7 that our military support would cease ‘as withdrawal proceeds.’ We understand this position to accord with the draft United Nations plan, to which U.S. negotiators have agreed, calling of a U.S. military aid cut…before all Soviet troops have left." Whose policy are we following, Reagan’s or Shultz’s?

The President’s State of the Union message was a good way to being the New Year. If Ronald Reagan can achieve just a few of the goals he outlined — such as forcing the Soviets out of Afghanistan, ousting the Sandinistas, keeping the economy humming with spending cuts and further tax-rate reductions — he is likely to go down in history as one of our greatest chief executives. But it’s going to take a lot more hard work, drive and inspiration than the Administration has show in recent months.