Spending Cuts Popular in Reagan's 1981 Budget
Friday, May 26th, 2017
President Ronald Reagan concentrated all the powers of his new office in the spring of 1981 on the task of winning congressional support for his far-reaching economic recovery plan. His goal was to shrink the federal government and balance the budget by 1984 through economic growth, which he aimed to achieve with steep reductions in spending and taxes. After introducing the plan in a speech to Congress in early February, Reagan returned there on April 28 with a forceful plea for bipartisan support.
Soon after, Gallup found the majority of Americans in Reagan's corner on the key issue of budget cuts. While less than half (46%) said his spending reductions were about right, another 12% said they were too low. Just 34% thought they were too high.
|Proposed cuts too high
|Proposed cuts about right
|Proposed cuts too low
|Gallup, May 8-11, 1981
Some additional probing in the May 1981 Gallup poll found that about half of Americans (49%) opposed at least one specific cut in general government spending. Asked to name which cut they opposed, 17% of this group cited Social Security, 8% aid to education, 8% welfare, 6% aid to the elderly, and 5% or less to a range of other safety net programs.
At the same time, more Americans believed Reagan's economic policies would benefit their family's financial situation (48%) than make it worse (37%). These beliefs may help explain why 58% said they approved of the way Reagan was dealing with economic conditions.
An even higher percentage, 68%, approved of the overall job Reagan was doing as president, although this approval rating likely reflected some sympathy approval in the weeks after Reagan was shot March 30 in a failed assassination attempt.
Although Reagan came into office with a Republican-controlled Senate, the House of Representatives was in Democratic hands, and winning House support for his economic bill wasn't easy. However, after months of debate and negotiation, Congress passed Reagan's Economic Recovery Tax Act on Aug. 4, 1981, and just over a week later, Reagan signed it into law.
This budget victory would shape Reagan's presidency en route to a booming economy three years later. While critics question how much credit Reaganomics deserves for that economic growth and often pillory its long-term economic consequences, the budget itself was considered a legislative triumph for the new president.