Historic Whispers: Barack Obama Vs. Ronald Reagan on the Economy

We looked at what Ronald Reagan did for the economy when he was in office.

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We decided to look back at a president who held very different economic views than President Barack Obama holds. In Ronald Reagan's first weeks of office in 1981, the Republican president strove to chop out a good portion of the federal budget, which at the time stood at $663 billion and is less than the total cost of the stimulus bill that Obama signed into law. Known as a good communicator, Reagan received a B-plus from political analysts on his ability to sell his programs to the American people but a C-minus on organizing his administration.

  • To show Congress that he means business about slashing the budget, "Ronald Reagan will veto more bills than any president in history," predicts a senior White House adviser. (Feb. 9, 1981)
  • The Senate's new Republican bosses lost no time in letting Ted Kennedy know what it really means to be in the minority. Kennedy has been evicted from the spacious quarters he occupied across the hall from the Judiciary Committee that he used to head. His new digs: A distant suite formerly used by defeated Democratic Sen. Herman Talmadge of Georgia. (Feb. 9, 1981)
  • From political analysts comes this rating of Ronald Reagan's performance after three weeks in office: Selling his programs to the public: B-plus; organizing his administration: C-minus; dealing with Congress: B-plus; putting his stamp on foreign affairs: B-minus. Overall rating: a solid B. (Feb. 16, 1981)
  • Nancy Reagan, intimates report, remains serene in the midst of news reports criticizing her expensive tastes in clothes and furnishings. "It's only when somebody attacks her husband that she really gets steamed," notes a family friend. (Feb. 16, 1981)
  • No matter how deeply Reagan seeks to slash the federal budget, Capitol Hill veterans predict, there is a maximum amount beyond which Congress cannot be pushed. The consensus ceiling on spending trims this year: No more than 6 billion dollars out of a budget totaling 663 billion. (Feb. 23, 1981)
  • Even while praise pours in for his performance on television, aides say, the president intends to step up addresses to the nation on radio. Reason: Reagan, who made a living and reputation delivering hundreds of radio commentaries, still regards it as his best medium of communication. (Feb. 23, 1981)
  • Some of Reagan's old California friends breathed sighs of relief when Frank Sinatra won a license to help run a Las Vegas gambling casino. The president's cronies hope the controversial entertainer, who arranged inaugural entertainment and attended Reagan's recent birthday party, will stay busy in Nevada and spend less time in Washington, where they fear he could create problems embarrassing to Reagan. (Feb. 23, 1981)
  • Contrary to custom, the code name for Reagan used during the election campaign by Secret Service agents in radio messages will not be changed now that he is president. Reagan likes the name—"Rawhide"—so much that he asked it to be retained. Nancy Reagan's code name: "Rainbow." (Feb. 23, 1981)
  • Now that Ronald Reagan has made two major televised speeches on his economic plan, he intends to maintain a low profile while his aides do the "hard sell." The president's advisers fear he is becoming overexposed in the news media. (March 2, 1981).

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