President Reagan is given full credit for his budget-cutting victory in the House. He used the telephone to persuade 29 "boll weevil" Democrats to vote for this program, which gave him just enough of a majority to get all the cuts through without debate.
This was the same tactic Lyndon Johnson used to get his "Great Society" program through. But whereas Lyndon Johnson did his by arm-twisting, President Reagan's style was entirely different.
I wasn't listening on the phone when he made the calls, but I heard they went something like this:
"Congressman Lighter, this is Ronnie Reagan. I have a great favor to ask of you."
"Yes, sir, Mr. President."
"I would like you to break from your party and the Democratic leadership, and vote your conscience by passing my budget recommendations without reading them."
"That's pretty tough to do, Mr. President."
"Before you say no, Tom, I would like to tell you a story. When I was playing college football, there was a fellow on the team named George Gipp. We used to call him the Gipper. George had a rare terminal illness, and I used to visit him at the hospital every change I got.
"One day, when it looked as if the end was near, he said to me, 'Ronnie, some day you're going to be president of the United States and you will be up against it. You're going to want to balance the budget, and cut taxes and bring a new prosperity and hope to the American people. It's going to be tough because with the fat and waste, you will have to cut out some meaningful programs that people need and want. And they're going to fight you in the House of Representatives where they will demand an up-and-down vote on each cut.'
"Are you still with me, Tom?"
"Yes sir, Mr. President."
"Gipp continued, 'And because they're Democrats, Ronnie, they're going to want their own budgetcutting package, which will not do the job, and sabotage your well-thought-out economic package. These free spenders, who don't care what happens to the taxpayers' money, will forget the mandate that you won from the American people to cut out all the social programs that destroy incentive and cause inflation that hurts every man, woman and child in America.'"
"Is there much more to this story, Mr. President?"
"Gipp was having a hard time breathing by then, but he told me, 'The day before the vote, the speaker is going to do some dirty maneuvering to see that all the reforms you worked for will go down the drain. It is then, Ronnie, when you think all is lost, that I want you to do something for me.'
"'Anything, George,' I told him. And he said, 'I want you to call up 29 Democratic congressmen, who would vote their convictions over their party loyalty, and tell them -- and tell them, to win this one for the Gipper.' That's the end of my story, Tom."
"Did George Gipp say anything about sugar?"
"I don't think so."
"Well, in Florida we raise a lot of sugar and we're interested in farm supports for our crop. The world price of sugar is ridiculous, and unless the federal government steps in and keeps the price above 19 1/2 cents a pound, I'm going to have a lot of unhappy farmers in my district."
"Come to think of it, Tom, the Gipp did mention sugar subsidies. I think his exact words were, 'Ronnie, I got one more favor to ask of you. Whatever you do, don't ever let imported sugar drive down the domestic price, so our own famers can't sell theirs at a profit.'"
"He said that?"
"The Gipper loved sugar, Tom, as much as he loved life itself."
"That's a wonderful story, Mr. President. I'm glad you called me up and told it to me. I'm going to go out there tomorrow and win one for sug -- I mean for the Gipper."
"Bless you, Tom. By the way, who else has a sugar problem in your state?"