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President Reagan’s Address Before A Joint Session of Congress on Economic Recovery

February 18, 1981
President Reagan’s Address Before A Joint Session of Congress on Economic Recovery Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This card depicts the political battle over the federal budget in the early 1980s between Republican President Ronald W. Reagan (left) and the Democratically controlled House, led by Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill (right).
On this date, newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan outlined his plan for economic recovery before a Joint Session of Congress. Reagan had inherited a sluggish economy, plagued by high inflation and interest rates. Bolstered by the first Republican majority in the Senate in 25 years, the President immediately began pressuring the Democratic majority in the House to adopt policy based on supply-side economic theories. The former actor-turned-politician used his personable political style in an oval-office address on February 5—a “pep talk” touting his economic program and a second, “State of the Union”-type speech to a Joint Session. Described as the most comprehensive economic changes since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced the New Deal, Reagan outlined a plan of significant tax cuts and slashes in federal spending. Though he received warm applause at parts of his speech—caught off guard by the ovation near the end, he quipped, “I should have arranged to quit right there”—congressional Democrats vowed a fight. When Reagan handed House Speaker Tip O’Neill a printed copy of his plan, the Massachusetts Democrat purportedly scoffed, “Mr. President, good luck,” in a way the Boston Globe reported “one heavyweight says it to another before the championship fight.” By the following August the popular President signed the Economic Recovery Tax Act which included much of his initial request. Since 1913 when President Woodrow Wilson revived the practice of addressing Congress in person, new Presidents have typically not given an official State of the Union address in their first year (the exceptions being President Dwight Eisenhower and  President John F. Kennedy). However, since Reagan’s 1981 address, each President has spoken before a Joint Session of Congress shortly after assuming office.

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