Ronald Reagan and AIDS: Correcting the record

For the record, Reagan first mentioned AIDS, in response to a question at a press conference, on Sept. 17, 1985. On Feb. 5, 1986, he made a surprise visit to the Department of Health and Human Services where he said, “One of our highest public health priorities is going to be continuing to find a cure for AIDS.” He also announced that he’d tasked Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to prepare a major report on the disease. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, Reagan dragged Koop into AIDS policy, not the other way around.

As for Waxman’s recollections about AIDS funding, he does an unusual thing for a politician: He’s forgotten the success he and other Democrats had in convincing Reagan to spend more money. The administration increased AIDS funding requests from $8 million in 1982 to $26.5 million in 1983, which Congress bumped to $44 million, a number that doubled every year thereafter during Reagan’s presidency.

Finally, the claim that Reagan spoke about AIDS sufferers with “disdain” is simply a smear. Nothing like that ever happened, except maybe in the fictional “The Reagans” miniseries in which Barbra Streisand’s husband played Reagan as a bigot and rube.