“The Fabulous 56” is how they were known by many — the 54 freshman Republicans who rode into the U.S. House in 1980 as Ronald Reagan swept into the presidency (and two more in special elections the following year) as Republicans unexpectedly won the Senate for the first time since 1954.
The Republicans who came into the 93rd Congress were inarguably a class of consequence, historians and reporters who covered them agree.
This past weekend, the “Class of '80” held a reunion on Capitol Hill. With 36 of them living and two still in the House (Chris Smith of New Jersey and Kentucky’s Hal Rogers), 20 of them convened for a dinner Friday night and discussion Saturday at the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Institute on Saturday.
Falling short of a majority in the House, Republicans nonetheless reached the modern high of 192 Members out of 435 in 1980 — a number reached only once before since 1958 (in 1972, after Richard Nixon’s landslide re-election).
In 1980, Republicans picked up 36 Democratic-held seats and lost only three seats of their own. This meant a net gain of 33 seats and made the margin of victory possible for the new president’s historic Tax and Budget Acts.
“Without us, one of the biggest tax cuts in history and a significant budget cut would not have happened,” said former Rep. John LeBoutillier, R.-NY, who, at 27, was the youngest Member of the 1980 Republican class in the House.
He was right. The Economic Tax Act of 1981, which included a 23% tax cut for all Americans over the next three years and cut capital gains taxes as well, was enacted by a vote of 238 to 195. Without the net gain of 33 Republicans in the House, it would have been doomed.
The same is true for the Gramm-Latta budget act, which made cuts in all non-defense discretionary spending programs at a time when they comprised roughly half the budget and mandated spending (entitlements) the other half. It passed 253 to 176.
While the freshman Republicans did not make the difference in the final vote, they nevertheless helped win over several of the 63 Democrats who eventually crossed over to support the measure.
On opening day of the baseball season, many of the Republican House freshmen appeared at baseball parks and called on constituents to “go to bat for the president.”
Rep. Stan Parris, R-Va., the only freshman who had previously served in Congress (1972-74) and came back, campaigned in the district of his Banking Subcommittee chairman and called on voters to urge him to back the president on the budget act.
While Ronald Reagan telephoned Democratic Rep. (and Ted Kennedy for President in 1980 booster) Gene Atkinson, Pa., while on a live radio talk show to seek his vote for the budget package (He got it.), New York’s LeBoutillier had been working on the Pennsylvanian for weeks as they walked to the Capitol together. Atkinson eventually switched to the GOP.
In his memoir "Herding Cats," then-House Minority Whip Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, recalled advising freshman Rep. Mick Staton, R.-W.Va.., that some of his votes could endanger his re-election in 1982.
"I didn't come to Washington to win re-election," Staton replied.
He didn’t. Staton would lose in ’82, as would a dozen of his fellow freshman Republicans. None ever voiced regrets or “if onlys” about their votes.
Some would go on to other things. Four of the House Class of ’80 went on to the U.S. Senate: Hank Brown of Colorado, Dan Coats of Indiana (who would also serve as Donald Trump’s Director of National Intelligence), Pat Roberts of Kansas, and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. Nebraska’s Hal Daub would make two unsuccessful bids for the Senate and later serve as mayor of Omaha. Florida’s Bill McCollum served as attorney general of the Sunshine State.
Illinois’ Lynn Martin would lose a Senate bid in 1990 and go on to be George H.W. Bush’s secretary of labor. She told Newsmax how “when President Reagan was in Illinois, he would refer to me as ‘my congressman’ because his hometown of Dixon, Illinois was in my district. I loved it.”
Martin was one of four women elected to Congress as Republicans in 1980 — “the most in any class of incoming [House] Republicans,” she told us. All of the four were pro-choice on abortion, but were never ostrasized or called names such as “RINO”[Republican In Name Only].
Freshman Rep. Claudine Schneider, R.-R.I.,voiced doubts about the Reagan budget because she felt it cut too much social spending her district needed in favor of stepped-up defense spending. She cast a procedural vote against the measure.
“Then President Reagan called and asked me why I didn’t like his budget,” she told us, “I had read the entire budget and told him some things I didn’t like.”
The next day, Schneider got a call from Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and he asked her for suggestions on where to trim the Pentagon spending. The Rhode Islander was soon on board with the full package.
“We were a band of brothers and sisters with a common goal and that was to work closely with a great leader to recharge our economy and win the Cold War,” Nebraska’s Daub told Newsmax, “And we did it.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.