Assemblyman Confuses Reagan’s Actual Record Against Stated Policies

ronald Reagan

Republican Assemblyman Don Wagner (R-Irvine) has a long career in education and surely he’s smarter than his recent OC Political love letter to the late Ronald Reagan.

Wagner apparently had an opportunity to read portions of the Gipper’s own personal diary recently and revealed that Reagan thought former House Speaker Tip O’Neill **believed** Reagan’s policies were “promoting welfare for the rich.”


Don Wagner

Don Wagner

Wagner writes:

“In this particular passage, Reagan recounted a meeting earlier in the day with Tip O’Neill. At the time, O’Neill was the very liberal Speaker of the House. From Massachusetts and a committed man of the left, Reagan accurately described O’Neill as a “New Deal Democrat.” He and Reagan sparred constantly over policy but apparently got along famously well. And then Reagan said this of the Speaker:

“He honestly believes that we’re promoting welfare for the rich.”

I find the line instructive both about O’Neill and his mindset, but equally about Reagan and his.

In this seemingly offhand observation, Ronald Reagan gives Tip O’Neill credit for acting in good faith in their policy disputes. O’Neill and the Democrats really do believe that Republican policies are intended to help the rich get richer. Forget for a moment that they’re wrong about that (as I’ll demonstrate below) and set aside the evidence from Reagan’s time and ours that shows unmistakably that our policies actually help the poor get richer. Just consider that Reagan recognizes O’Neill, however wrong, actually believed that Republican policies were explicitly designed to help the rich.

The same remains true today. Democrats actually believe this stuff; they truly think that Republican policies are intended to help the rich become richer. And, of course, if you believe this of us, like O’Neill did and today’s Democrats still do, you would vigorously oppose and denounce our selfish, mean spirited “welfare for the rich” policies.

But I note the passage from Reagan’s diary for another reason than just to explain Democrats. It really says eloquently that O’Neill and today’s fellow travelers with him are just plain wrong. That is actually the most telling point of the diary entry. Quite simply, Ronald Reagan knew that this absurd Democratic belief was not true. The diary entry is inexplicable otherwise.”

Where to start?

Many Republicans believe President Reagan reduced the size of government in his eight years in office when what he really did was expand it while increasing government spending and cutting taxes for the very wealthy.  It had the effect of turning the United States from the world’s greatest creditor nation to one of the world’s greatest debtor nations.

That’s what happens when you dramatically increase the military budget while drastically cutting funds for domestic programs that helped the middle class and the poor.  The Republican presidents who followed Reagan used his blueprint on governance to terrible results.

Republicans also believe Reagan restored the nation’s economy, but the economic growth that occurred during the Reagan administration mostly benefitted the 1 percent and the income gap between the very rich and everyone else in America widened dramatically. The average middle class worker saw wages decline and with it a decline in the country’s homeownership rate. The minimum wage was $3.35 an hour, the cost of living rose and lowered the standard of living for millions of the working poor.  Under Reagan, those living below the poverty line increased from 26.1 million in 1979 to 32.7 million in 1988, while the rich got richer, holding 39 percent of the nation’s wealth.

So much is made of big cities run by Democratic mayors, but urban decline began during the Reagan years because his administration cut general revenue sharing by as much as 60 percent which slashed funding for public service jobs and job training, nearly killed legal services for the poor, and reduced federal aid for public transportation.  These cuts were very hard on cities with high poverty rates.  How  hard?  Basic services funded by the federal government in 1980 was about 22 percent of these city’s budgets and Reagan cut them to 6 percent — cities still haven’t recovered.

An increase in homeless can also be attributed to Reagan’s dramatic cuts for low-income housing, which he cut in half.  While Tip O’Neill and Congress saved some funding for housing assistance for the poor, Reagan got most of his way.  Homelessness doubled during his two terms in office.

The scary thing for me is that our currently state assemblyman in Irvine actually believes Republican policies help the poor get richer.

Not when you cut education.

Not when you cut job training.

No when you cut funds for low income housing.

And certainly not when you are in denial about Ronald Reagan’s actual record compared to his promises.

  14 comments for “Assemblyman Confuses Reagan’s Actual Record Against Stated Policies

  1. RHackett
    February 10, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    I’ll give Wagner the benefit of the doubt. Reagan may have been surprised that is what O’Neill thought. Not because that was Reagan’s intent, but that was the outcome.

  2. Don Wagner
    February 10, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    As Reagan said, liberals know a lot that just isn’t so. Your efforts at re-writing history and the Reagan legacy have been thoroughly debunked elsewhere. I haven’t the time or energy to go through it all again. But for readers with an interest in actual facts, check out the CATO Institute’s study “Supply-Side Economics and the Truth about the Reagan Record.” (

    Specifically, though, on the subject of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, the truth is that “every income quintile–from the richest to the poorest–gained income according to the Census Bureau economic data.” In other words, the poor got richer, just as I said in my article.

    Finally, from the conclusion of that thoroughly documented study:

    “The 1980s were years of economic progress, not decline. Real GDP grew by about one-third in the 1980s. The economic gains were widely distributed among income groups, with every income quintile, from the richest fifth to the poorest fifth, gaining ground in the Reagan years.

    “The Reagan tax cuts were not a primary cause of the eruption of the deficit in the 1980s. The main two causes were an unexpectedly sharp reduction in inflation in the early 1980s that led to large real increases in federal spending, and a nearly $1 trillion military build-up during the last phase of the cold war. [For which the country got a lot more than the stagnation we’ve seen from the Bush/Obama profligacy. – Don] Most significantly, the economy of the 1980s outperformed that of the 1990s in virtually every measurable category.
    Economic growth was higher, job creation was faster, incomes rose much faster, and productivity climbed at a healthier pace.”

    Don Wagner
    Assembly Member, 68th District

    • February 11, 2014 at 9:09 am

      Thanks for chiming in Don; there’s no attempts at rewriting history except by you.

      I’m working off facts, which President Reagan once said were “stupid things.”

      Under President Reagan, federal government spending was a quarter higher in real terms at the end of his second term as opposed to the beginning of his first. As a share of GDP, the federal government shrank from 22.2 percent to 21.2 percent, but the federal civilian work force increased from 2.8 million to 3 million even if you excluded Defense Department civilians.

      Under President Clinton, the federal civilian work force went down from 2.9 million to 2.68 million while federal spending grew by 11 percent in real terms—less than half as much as under Reagan’s 25% increase. As a share of GDP, federal spending shrank from 21.5 percent to 18.3 percent—more than double Reagan’s reduction. Bill Clinton actually shrank government.

      Under Reagan, federal taxes, as a share of GDP, dropped from 19.6% to 18.3%. After Clinton’s minor tax increase, they went to 20% and left a booming economy in its place with a budget surplus. For most working Americans (the wokring poor and the middle class), the share of income going to taxes (including FICA) went up even under Reagan. That is a fact.

      Yes, Reagan cut taxes and lowered the marginal tax rates rates, but economic prosperity in the Reagan administration is more tied to dramatic rate reductions via tax reform of 1986, a bipartisan effort that was led by Senator Bill Bradley. Reagan’s initial tax cuts benefits those who were already wealthy and these 1 percenters paid almost no federal taxes at all.

      Your premise that Republican policies help the poor get richer is false and not backed up by data from a non-partisan source.

  3. RHackett
    February 10, 2014 at 10:47 pm


    I’m sure all those economic gains would be possible now if the GOP were willing to let the current president triple the national debt like Reagan did during his administration.

  4. junior
    February 11, 2014 at 6:36 am

    Reagan accomplished many things, all the while working with a Democratic controlled House for fully 8 years – BHO not so much.

  5. RHackett
    February 11, 2014 at 7:01 am

    Comparing Boehner to O’Neill is a non-sequitur.

    Reagan would get kicked out of today’s GOP for any number of reasons.

    Raised taxes
    Weakened abortion laws
    Negotiated with terrorists
    Expanded government
    Tripled the national debt

    The current GOP made it clear the day Obama was inaugurated that their primary goal was to make him a one term president.

    They couldn’t have cared less about cleaning up the Bush Recession or getting the economy moving again.

  6. junior
    February 11, 2014 at 10:41 am

    RHackett – Actually, to have made BHO a one term Pres would have gone a long way toward getting us out of recession and getting the economy moving.

  7. RHackett
    February 11, 2014 at 10:57 am

    Based on what crystal ball?

    This is yet another conservative talking point with absolutely zero substance.

  8. RHackett
    February 11, 2014 at 11:12 am


    The GOP has yet to put forth any proposals that have been shown to work.

    All they have done is criticize Obama for not fixing the disaster their candidate left behind fast enough.

  9. junior
    February 11, 2014 at 11:17 am

    The GOP has put forth and passed proposals to improve the economy – they don’t get passed the Senate and they certainly would not get passed BHO.

  10. RHackett
    February 11, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Like what? Be specific!

    Please don’t say cutting taxes. One third of the Stimulus Bill was tax cuts for the middle class.

    Tax cuts don’t mean a thing to someone who doesn’t have a job.

    The GOP ran on a platform of a Jobs Bill being their priority on Day ONE when they retook the House majority. Three years later they have yet to put forth any such thing.

  11. February 11, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Don — Page 4, figure 3B disproves your comment on income increasing for everyone.

    Also, go to page 5. Lowest percentage annual income rose a couple of hundred dollars from 1981 to 1989; whereas the top 5% income rose nearly $18,000 for the same period.

    When you consider the inflation from the early 80s, the income increase for the lowest wage earners did not keep pace with the cost of living.

    This is a Census Bureau report; is that bi-partisan or non-partisan enough for you?

  12. February 13, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    Dan, This may be a better visualization of the income gap and real income loss experienced by the poor during Reagan’s term.

    Income Gap

  13. February 14, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    and W’s term too. But let’s not confuse Don with facts because he’ll say we are rewriting history.

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