President Reagan opened trading on the New York Stock Exchange today in a campaign-style trip to launch a rescue effort for his embattled budget.
Adopting the jargon of Wall Street, where a bear market declines and a bull market rises, Reagan said that if Congress adopts the tax overhaul and budget restraints he wants, "our economy will be free to expand to its full potential, driving the bears back into permanent hibernation.
"That's our economic program for the next four years," Reagan said. "We're going to turn the bull loose."
And with that, at the appointed moment of three seconds before 10 a.m., he pushed a button to electronically ring the bell that traditionally opens frantic stock trading on the floor of the exchange. Traders jamming the floor below chanted "Ronnie! Ronnie! Ronnie!"
In a speech later at St. John's University, Reagan reiterated his willingness to compromise with Congress in "non-critical areas" of defense spending. But he gave no ground on proposals to slash domestic spending, saying he wants to limit student financial aid to those "who couldn't get an education without it."
In his remarks on Wall Street, Reagan lectured America's trading partners for failing to keep up with U.S. economic growth, saying that other nations should "cut their own tax rates, spending and over-regulation and join us in opening up their markets to foreign competition."
He compared the American economy to "a race horse that's begun to gallop in front of the field."
"Other nations, hobbled by high tax rates and weighed down by oversized government spending, have been slow to catch up," he said.
Acknowledging that "this has caused some painful dislocations, especially for America's exporting industries," Reagan argued that is no reason "to hamstring the American economy to make it drop back with the others."
Dismissing suggestions that the strength of the dollar is hurting U.S. industry and America's allies, the President said, "The solution is for our trading partners to throw off the dead weight of government . . . so that they can catch up with us in our race to the future."
Later, in the speech at St. John's, a Catholic university in nearby Queens, Reagan responded with measured conciliation to congressional critics who have rejected his budget and called for trimming his defense buildup rather than making wholesale cuts in domestic programs, as Reagan wants.
"At this point, it is a simple necessity to continue to bring our armed forces up to date," Reagan said. "I've told the Senate leadership that I'm willing to consider more defense savings in non-critical areas. But I cannot compromise on the defense programs that are vital to our security."
It was another sign that Reagan is now willing to accept some trimming of the defense budget he had maintained was set at the minimum necessary to maintain national security.