Opinion: The same date, but a much different time

2/18/1981 President Reagan George Bush Thomas "Tip" O'Neill Addressing Joint Session of Congress on Program for economic recovery in House Chamber United States Capitol. Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
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2/18/1981 President Reagan George Bush Thomas "Tip" O'Neill Addressing Joint Session of Congress on Program for economic recovery in House Chamber United States Capitol. Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.

Credit: Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library

When President Joe Biden entered the House Chamber on Wednesday night to speak to a Joint Session of Congress, it was 40 years to the day after President Ronald Reagan stood at the same lectern and asked for Congress to support his economic plans.

But it almost seems like it was 400 years ago.

Things were different back in 1981, as dozens of Democrats would break ranks to vote for Reagan’s tax and budget-cutting agenda.   And that bipartisanship was very evident in Georgia’s Congressional delegation, just months after the defeat of Jimmy Carter.

“For the benefit of the nation, I sincerely hope that Mr. Reagan’s plan works,” said U.S. Rep. Elliot Levitas, a Democrat who represented a district in the northeast Atlanta metro area.

Democrats could have simply refused to consider the Reagan budget in 1981, and instead do all they could to undermine the new President.

“We are the opposition,” noted House Speaker Tip O’Neill, D-Mass., who said Democrats “felt, in the best interest of America, that the hand of cooperation ought to go out.”

“The American people know that they want a change in direction,” Levitas added.

Levitas wasn’t an outlier.

Eight of Georgia’s nine Democrats in the House in 1981 — Ronald B. Ginn, Charles Floyd Hatcher, Jack T. Brinkley, Levitas, Lawrence P. McDonald, Billy Lee Evans, Edgar L. Jenkins, and Doug Barnard Jr. all joined the state’s only Republican (Newt Gingrich) and voted for the Reagan budget.  Wyche Fowler was the only Georgia lawmaker to vote ‘No.’

Forty years later, can you imagine Georgia Republicans in Congress backing President Biden’s signature legislative plans like Democrats did with Reagan?

That answer is clearly ‘no.’

Setting the tone this week among Georgia Republicans was U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, who denounced Biden as a ‘progressive communist.’

“Biden’s first 100 days have been nothing but broken promises,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans, who called the President’s plans ‘socialist policy proposals.’

“His agenda is wrong for American workers,” said U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, who said Biden has mainly offered ‘empty rhetoric.’

“Joe Biden is delivering the radical Left’s socialist wish list,” said U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler.

“Biden lied to the American people when he said his $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill was about COVID relief,” said U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville.

Democrats, meanwhile, were evidently attending a different speech in a different political universe from the GOP, where Wednesday night polls showed strong bipartisan support for the President’s plans.

“The first 100 days of the Biden presidency have been marked by bold and visionary life-changing policy,” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta.

As Biden headed out of the House chamber, he stopped and chatted with several GOP lawmakers interested in working with him.

None of them were from Georgia.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com