“Happy birthday to Ronald Reagan!” Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) tweeted on Thursday, swiftly followed by his Tea Party compatriot Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). While praise from this sort of Republican on what would have been President Reagan’s 103rd birthday isn’t surprising, it is somewhat ironic. Though Reagan was extremely conservative (often terribly so), he bucked the sort of hardline conservative line the Tea Party has become synonymous with repeatedly throughout his career in politics. Here are 7 Reagan moves that may well have led to his excommunication from today’s Republican Party if he were alive today:
1. Paved the way for Obamacare
Reagan’s health policy previewed Obamacare in three major ways. First, Reagan signed Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), the law barring hospitals from turning away patients on grounds of their insurance or citizenship — a preview of Obamacare’s ban on insurance discrimination against individuals with preexisting conditions. Second, Reagan doubled the size of Medicaid over the course of his presidency to pay for all of those new uninsured patients — a huge Obamacare-style Medicaid expansion. Third, Reagan pushed something called Diagnosis Related Groups (DRGs), which essentially had the government set the prices Medicare was willing to pay for each Medicare admission rather than pay for reimburse doctors per cost. DRGs cut Medicare costs by $49 billion by 1986, proving a promising trial for the sorts of Medicare payment reform policies you can find in Obamacare.
2. Amnesty for undocumented immigrants
In 1986, Reagan signed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, a bipartisan immigration reform bill that created a pathway to citizenship for 3 million undocumented immigrants. Simpson-Mazzoli is now referred to by some conservatives as the “Reagan amnesty,” and came up during both the 2007 and 2013 immigration reform debates.
3. Successfully pushed for an assault weapons ban
Before the National Rifle Association became what it was today, Reagan worked with them to ban guns. Specifically, automatic weapons: civilians were legally allowed to own fully automatic rifles until 1986, when Reagan signed the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act banning them. After his Presidency, Reagan backed the Brady gun law establishing many of the major restrictions on gun purchases today. His support for the 1994 Assault Weapon Ban pushed the ban to its two vote margin of victory — according to two of the Congressmen who made the difference.
4. Grew the federal government, big time
Reagan’s record belies his reputation as a huge foe of government. Reagan built a progressive tax system to fund Social Security, and funded the creation of a new federal department (the Department of Veterans’ Affairs). Much of Reagan’s spending, including his defense buildup, was funded by deficit spending. If Obama spent like Reagan, the deficit would be much, much higher.
5. Dealt with Russia to build a world free of nuclear weapons
Back when there was an actual Soviet Union, Reagan kicked off negotiations aimed at reducing the nuclear threat — negotiations that eventually morphed into the START treaty. In his memoir, Reagan wrote that “[m]y dream…became a world free of nuclear weapons.” After START expired in 2009, its replacement (NEW START) was ratified over the bitter objections of a majority of Senate Republicans.
6. Wanted to make millionaires pay more in taxes
Reagan despised tax loopholes that allowed millionaires to skate around their tax obligations. “Tax loopholes,” according to the Gipper, “sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying ten percent of his salary, and that’s crazy.” It’s crazy, he said, because the “truly wealthy” were avoiding “paying their fair share.”
7. Passed environmental regulations that are now being used to fight climate change
Make no mistake — Reagan bears significant responsibility for the climate emergency. But he also negotiated the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement got the whole world to clamp down on pollution that was tearing holes in the ozone layer. Today, the Montreal Protocol is being used to clamp down on the technology that replaced the ozone-depleting kind, which turned out to be a fairly significant contributor to climate change.