- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2000

The House yesterday voted to honor former President Reagan and his wife, Nancy, with a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition for their service to the United States.

"Ronald Reagan fulfilled his pledge to restore 'the great confident road of American progress, growth and optimism,' " said Rep. Jim Gibbons, Nevada Republican and sponsor of the measure.

The bill passed 350-8.

When Mr. Reagan took office in 1981, said Rep. Spencer Bachus, Alabama Republican, "America seemed to have lost hope as a result of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, the oil crisis and a failing economy."

"We were divided, drifting, seemingly devoid of purpose," he said. "Then appeared a person who never doubted us."

The bill, which now moves to the Senate, authorizes up to $30,000 to create a gold medal for the Reagans. It also authorizes the U.S. Mint to create bronze copies for sale to the public.

Mr. Reagan is an icon to Republicans and remains one of the nation's most popular presidents, despite bitter criticism of him by Democrats during his presidency. He is widely remembered for his handling of foreign affairs, particularly his confrontational stand against communism worldwide.

He is often credited with helping speed the collapse of the Soviet Union and ending the Cold War. Among his best remembered speeches was one in 1987 at the Berlin Wall, when he challenged Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."

The wall came down less than a year after Mr. Reagan left office, ending Germany's 40-year partition.

Mr. Reagan left office in 1989 after two terms. He is now suffering from Alzheimer's disease and has not appeared in public for many years. He reportedly has trouble remembering his own relatives or his time in office.

As first lady, Mrs. Reagan made the fight against drug abuse her personal project. She championed the "Just Say No" campaign.

Since Mr. Reagan's illness was diagnosed, she has been active in public efforts to raise money to fight Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative brain disease that gradually robs victims of memory and mental abilities. No cure has yet been found for the illness, which usually strikes older people.

The debate over the gold medal yesterday was in sharp contrast to the debate two years ago about honoring Mr. Reagan by adding his name to Washington National Airport.

Democrats, who were bitterly opposed to many of Mr. Reagan's policies as president, sharply attacked that effort and waged a spirited battle to prevent the renaming.

Only seven Democrats voted against the gold medal. One Republican, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, also opposed the measure. "He votes against all awards of gold medals. There is no constitutional authorization to spend $30,000 to reward great people… . There's nothing personal," said Tom Lizardo, Mr. Paul's chief of staff.

"The bonds that unite us as a nation go far beyond the partisanship we sometimes encounter in this House," said Rep. John J. LaFalce, New York Democrat, explaining his party's decision not to object to honoring Mr. Reagan.

Democrats plan to introduce a bill honoring former President Jimmy Carter, the Democrat defeated by Mr. Reagan in 1980, with a gold medal as well.

And, Mr. LaFalce said, "the next Congress looks forward to honoring the work of the present president and first lady."

Even former adversaries backed recognition of the Reagans' service. Mr. Gorbachev wrote to congressional leaders, saying the gold medal is a "fitting tribute."

Mr. Reagan "will go down in history as a man profoundly dedicated to his people and committed to the values of democracy and freedom," Mr. Gorbachev wrote.

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