News analysis: 30 years of deficit talk, but little to show for it
What is sometimes forgotten about Reagan as a candidate is that he only carried tough talk so far about cutting spending.
"This does not mean sacrificing essential services; nor do we need to destroy the system of benefits which flow to the poor, the elderly, the sick and the handicapped," he said in announcing his 1980 campaign.
It was only after he won the presidency that Reagan's administration proposed cuts in Social Security. The president quickly backed off, but the Republicans still suffered a backlash in the 1982 congressional elections. Voters also punished them when Gingrich, against the advice of campaign strategists, sought to curb Medicare spending in 1995. His struggles over the issue helped President Bill Clinton win re-election the following year — and persuaded congressional Republicans in 2005 to bury President George W. Bush's proposal for a partial privatization of Social Security.
With renewed zeal, House Republican leaders now pledge that the budget Ryan is working on will tackle entitlement spending. And that has campaign strategists worried once again.
"There's a difference between saying public employee unions have to take cuts, and attacking programs like Social Security and Medicare," said Tom Rath, an influential New Hampshire Republican. Rath's preferred presidential candidate, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, steered clear of the entitlement debate in his CPAC speech.
"Chris Christie was pretty brave," Khachigian said. "But it's pretty clear he's not running for president."
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