Autobiography "An American Life," Ronald Reagan...

IN HIS

January 07, 1994

IN HIS autobiography "An American Life," Ronald Reagan wrote, "One . . . day in January 1986, after my usual staff meetings, I began a conference with congressional leaders from both parties at which I had a few words with Tip O'Neill over my continuing (and still frustrated) efforts to cut federal spending."

That's the ex-president's entire account of the meeting. For those of you interested in what "had a few words" actually means, here is how Tip, the ex-speaker of the House, who died this week, remembered that meeting in his autobiography, "Man of the House":

"One of my most unpleasant confrontations with Reagan came in January 1986, at a bipartisan meeting at the White House that included a discussion of the unemployment problem. At the time the unemployment rate was 7 percent, although in some areas of the country it was considerably worse.

"When I complained that 7 percent was still too high, the president replied that the figure would be lower if members of the armed services were counted in the work force. While this was true enough, it had always been true -- and had nothing to do with the topic at hand.

"Then he started a familiar song. 'Those people out there can get jobs if they really want to,' said the president. 'I'm told about the fellow on welfare who makes phone calls looking for work. On the third call they offer him a job, and he hangs up. These people don't want to work.'

"I couldn't believe he was still spouting this nonsense, and I exploded. 'Don't give me that crap!' I said. 'The guy in Youngstown, Ohio, who's been laid off at the steel mill and has to make mortgage payments -- don't tell me he doesn't want to work. Those stories may work on your rich friends, but they don't work on the rest of us. I'm sick and tired of your attitude, Mr. President. I thought you would have grown in the five years you've been in office, but you're still repeating those same simplistic explanations.' "

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