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Reagan Honors O’Neill In Speech

February 5, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan, pausing at the beginning of his State of the Union address Tuesday night, honored his longtime political foe, House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., who is retiring at the end of the year.

″Tonight marks the 10th and last State of the Union message that you have presided over,″ the president said, putting aside his prepared text for a moment. ″I salute you for your service to Congress and to the country.″

O’Neill, 73, received a standing ovation from the more than 1,000 congressmen, senators, diplomats, cabinet members and guests who gathered for the address.

The president and O’Neill have tangled repeatedly since Reagan took office in 1981, when Republicans also took control of the Senate and O’Neill became the Democrats’ leading spokesman.

Reagan has ridiculed O’Neill as the symbol of ever-rising taxes and an ever-expanding federal budget. O’Neill has cast the president as a friend of the rich and enemy of the poor and elderly.

O’Neill, who has served longer continuously as speaker than anyone, is retiring at the end of this year after 17 terms in Congress. He was first elected in 1952 to the House seat held by John F. Kennedy, who ran successfully for the Senate.

The president’s praise is unlikely to dampen the partisan rhetoric that the two men have exchanged. Shortly before Reagan’s speech, O’Neill issued a statement based on the prepared text.

″The president failed to define concrete proposals for meeting the challenges of trade, farming and the continued tragedy of those who are left behind economically,″ he said.

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