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Radio Address to the Nation on Congressional Inaction on Proposed Legislation

August 11, 1984

My fellow Americans:

I'm pleased to tell you that today I signed legislation that will allow student religious groups to begin enjoying a right they've too long been denied—the freedom to meet in public high schools during nonschool hours, just as other student groups are allowed to do. This has been given the shorthand label "equal-access legislation."

You might remember that I recently asked the House Democratic leadership to permit a vote on equal access and to permit votes on five other legislative measures important to you and your families that they, the Democratic leadership, had bottled up. Well, the Congress recessed yesterday, and the House Democratic leaders are returning to their districts. Some of these leaders and other Democrats have been campaigning on what they call their "new realism." But before they give too many speeches about all the wise things they promise to do for America, I want to give you a little report card on what they in fact did do—or, rather, did not do—as their new realism was put to the test.

Of those six important pieces of legislation we requested, specific measures to help reduce deficits, reward hard work and thrift, make your neighborhoods and cities safer, and increase personal liberties, only one was voted on—the equal-access bill. Equal access was only voted on after a majority of the House, led by the late Carl D. Perkins, defied the Democratic leadership, which continued to resist right up to the bitter end.

Of the remaining five proposals to test the new realism, not one was brought to a vote. So much for the test of the new realism. If the Democrats were given a report card, one out of six right would have meant a failing grade, a red letter "F."

When the Democratic leadership keeps saying no to America, they show how far they are from new realism and how far they've drifted from mainstream thinking. We asked for a vote on a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced Federal budget. We will insist that the Congress move toward a balanced budget, not by imposing new taxes on your families, but by spending within its means and allowing economic growth to continue.

The overwhelming majority of Americans agree with this position, but the House Democratic leaders don't. They don't want spending restraint, because their party has made so many campaign promises, promises they intend to fund by raising your taxes more than $1,500 per household.

We asked for a vote on our enterprise zones bill to provide incentives for people to invest, work, hire, and start up new businesses in economically distressed areas. This measure has been passed twice by the Republican Senate. It's supported by a majority of Members in the House, including many Democrats, and by a broad coalition of community leaders. We're ready to designate 75 zones to create opportunity, independence, and hope for our neediest citizens. But the Democratic leadership said no.

We asked for a vote on our proposal granting spouses working in the home the same individual retirement right, IRA's, as spouses working outside the home. Each could save and exclude from taxation up to $2,000 a year. The House Democratic leadership said no.

We asked for a vote allowing tuition tax credits for low- and middle-income parents who pay to send their children to parochial or independent schools, while also paying their full share of taxes to support public schools. The House Democratic leadership said no.

And we asked for action on our comprehensive anticrime package to crack down on criminals through new restrictions on bail, tougher sentencing, and stricter enforcement of drug trafficking laws. This bill passed the Senate 91 to 1, but the House Democratic leadership said no.

You might be interested to know what House Speaker Tip O'Neill has called these proposals for a balanced budget, expanded IRA's, enterprise zones, tuition tax credits, tougher law enforcement, and equal access for students. He says they're "a right-wing agenda." Does the Democratic leadership truly believe that common sense in budgeting and greater opportunity and security for people is a right-wing agenda?

The Presidential nominee of the Democratic Party and his running mate could have asked the Speaker to give democracy a chance—could have, but didn't. They, too, said no.

All this has gotten me to thinking about a great Democrat. Just 36 years ago, Harry Truman called the 80th Congress the "do-nothing Congress." One thing is sure: Harry Truman wasn't afraid of the American people. He wasn't afraid of democracy, of putting issues to the test of a vote. Were he with us now, I think he would relish the chance to run against those who proclaim a new realism and then do nothing.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:06 a.m. from Rancho del Cielo, his ranch near Santa Barbara, CA.

Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on Congressional Inaction on Proposed Legislation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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