Reagan Revisionism Alert

Rush Limbaugh argues:

“The government grew under Reagan, but Reagan fought it. He did not want the government to grow like it did. It was not part of his plan to stimulate the economy. He vetoed spending bills left and right.”

Left and right? As in, a lot of them? Sadly, no.

Reagan vetoed 78 bills during his term in office. 53 had nothing whatsoever to do with government spending, a list that included a bill “to prohibit loans to, other investments in, and certain other activities with respect to, South Africa” (2444 H.R. 4868,) one “to direct the Secretary of the Interior to permit access across certain Federal lands in the state or Arkansas” (2456 S. 1259,) and one to “amend section 20 of Title 18, United States Code, relating to restrictions on post-employment activities” (2469 H.R. 5043.)

[A full list of Reagan vetoes’ is available in a 33MB (PDF) Senate document that covers vetoes from 1789 to 1988 here. Vetoes in the 1980s and 1990s, also in PDF here.)

Of the other 25 bills, only four were major budget bills. Of the remaining 21, I picked four bills for which I could find data on appropriations:

  • 2415 S. 684.
    To authorize an ongoing program of water resources research.
  • 2396 S. 2577.
    To authorize appropriations for environmental research, development, and demonstration for the fiscal year 1983.
  • 2404 H.R. 9.
    National wilderness preservation system in Florida.
  • 2421 s. 1967.
    To compensate the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribe of the Fort Belknap Indian Community for irrigation construction expenditures.
  • How much money was saved? The first bill had appropriated US$36 millions, the second $46 millions above Reagan’s proposal. In his veto of the third, Reagan objected to the possibility of an additional $200 millions in spending. The last bill authorized a generous [!] payment of $107,759.58 to the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes.

    I wonder how much Reagan did save the US Treasury by vetoing those other bills. Does Rush have any idea? [I’ve emailed him — will post any reply here.]

    PS: When he took office, federal spending as a percentage of GDP was 21.7%. In 1988 it was 21.2%. After reaching 22.2% in 1992, it went down to 18.4% in 2000. (CBO figures.)

    PPS: According to the Cato Institute, government spending increased by an inflation adjusted 7% under Reagan.


    Comments: 8



    heh, heh


    You’re right, but your analysis is off. The bills you cite aren’t approprriations bills – they only authorize the spending of money, they don’t actually spend it. I counted 12 Reagan vetoes of actual appropriations bills, and one that looked like it involved changes to entitlements that would have also affected government spending. Since there were probably about 100 or so regular, supplemental, and omnibus appropriations bills in Reagan’s presidency, that still amounts to a pretty small number.


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    Shalom, gentlemen.


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