The 30th president cut the top income-tax rate to 25% (lower than the 28% of the historic Reagan cut of 1986). Coolidge reduced the national debt and balanced the budget. When he departed the White House for his home in Northampton, Mass., he left a federal budget smaller than the one he found.

Three factors gave Silent Cal the ability to cut as he did, each suggesting a governing approach that would be useful today.

The first advantage was a gift from his predecessor, President Harding: the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921. Theretofore, the president had enjoyed no general oversight of the budget. Bills came to the chief executive’s desk like requests crafted by clever children, hard to turn down. Under the Accounting Act, the executive branch gained the authority to present a unified budget and a research staff in the form of the Budget Bureau, a forerunner to today’s Office of Management and Budget. The executive also had the authority to impound money already appropriated. …

Against Congress, Coolidge also moved boldly. The jovial Harding had vetoed only six bills. Coolidge vetoed 50. “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones,” Coolidge once advised his father. Coolidge proved a maestro of the pocket veto. He twice vetoed farming subsidies and he stopped government entry into the utilities industry by killing a project to operate the old wartime plant at Muscle Shoals in Alabama.