Can Donald Trump Learn from Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill?

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tags: Ronald Reagan, Trump, Tip ONeill



On April 28, 1982, fifteen months into his first term, President Ronald Reagan went up to Capitol Hill to meet with Tip O’Neill, the Democratic Speaker of the House. The two Irish-American politicians had to that point been bitter enemies. As Reagan had pursued his conservative agenda of tax cuts, a military buildup, and deregulation, O’Neill had done everything he could to resist. Now, though, with the budget deficit rising and the markets getting concerned about Washington’s solvency, the Republican and the Democrat needed each other’s help. The White House wanted to cut domestic spending, including Social Security. O’Neill wanted to safeguard entitlement programs and reverse some of Reagan’s tax cuts for the rich.

The meeting took place in the President’s Room, just off the Senate floor. As Laurence I. Barrett, a Time magazine reporter, recalled in his book “Gambling with History: Reagan in the White House,” from 1983, Reagan broke the ice by telling an off-color Irish joke that ended with the punch line “So I told her to shit in her hat and the fight was on.” Despite this inauspicious beginning, the two sides stuck at it. Four months later, they announced an agreement that formed the basis of the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, which increased tax revenues by about one per cent of G.D.P. Reagan and O’Neill also set up a bipartisan commission on Social Security, and the following year they both endorsed a set of reforms that put the finances of the public retirement system on a firmer footing. (The agreement delayed a cost-of-living adjustment and raised the retirement age. It also increased contributions and cut benefits for future retirees.)

Could this episode provide inspiration for Donald Trump following the demise of the House Republican health-care bill? Some reports say that Trump is so angry at the conservative Republicans who deserted him that he may change tack and reach out to Democrats. “This President is not going to be a partisan President,” Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think it’s time for our folks to come together; I also think it’s time to potentially get a few moderate Democrats on board as well.”




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