It had not yet been 24 hours since President Ronald Reagan was wounded in an assassination attempt—wounds far more serious than the public was told at the time.
But on the morning of March 31, 1981, the three men he relied on most in these early days of his administration came to see him in his room at George Washington University Hospital, about six blocks from the White House.
Chief of Staff James A. Baker, Deputy Chief Michael Deaver, and Counselor Edwin Meese brought with them some urgent business—a piece of legislation that had to be signed. And it had to be signed that day.
It had passed both houses of Congress and, like all bills sent from Congress to the President, bore the signatures of the Speaker of the House, then Democrat Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr., and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, then Republican Strom Thurmond.
The legislation would block an increase in dairy price supports that, without Reagan’s signature on this legislation, would go into effect the next day, April 1, 1981, boosting price supports and costing the government hundreds of millions of dollars. Reagan’s budget makers argued that the mounting costs of the dairy program could run into the billions of dollars.
The President needed to sign this bill that day. He did, right on his breakfast tray. His clear, but shaky, signature was affixed to the one-page legislation along with those of O’Neill and Thurmond.