Although AIDS was first identified in 1981, and victims, mostly gay men were succumbing to the disease Ronald Reagan did not mention it publicly for over four years notably during a press conference in 1985 and several speeches in 1987.
When Reagan finally mentioned AIDS, briefly, he was asked about the budget allocation for research:
Q: Mr. President, the Nation’s best-known AIDS scientist says the time has come now to boost existing research into what he called a minor moonshot program to attack this AIDS epidemic that has struck fear into the Nation’s health workers and even its schoolchildren. Would you support a massive government research program against AIDS like the one that President Nixon launched against cancer?
President Reagan: I have been supporting it for more than 4 years now. It’s been one of the top priorities with us, and over the last 4 years, and including what we have in the budget for ’86, it will amount to over a half a billion dollars that we have provided for research on AIDS in addition to what I’m sure other medical groups are doing. And we have $100 million in the budget this year; it’ll be 126 million next year. So, this is a top priority with us. Yes, there’s no question about the seriousness of this and the need to find an answer.
During the diseases early years between June 1981 and May 1982 the CDC spent less than $1 million on AIDS and $9 million on Legionnaire’s Disease. At that point more than 1,000 of the 2,000 reported AIDS cases resulted in death; there were fewer than 50 deaths from Legionnaire’s Disease. This drastic lack of funding would continue.
In 1986 Reagan requested $85 million for AIDS research, but Congress horrified at the low number bumped that figure up to $244 million only to have Reagan then unsuccessfully try to rescind $50 million of that figure, according to the Boston Globe, but he ultimately agreed to Congress’ figure. In 1987, Reagan proposed cutting the research budget for AIDS down to $214 million. Congress again responded dramatically against Reagan by raising it to about $400 million.
The Boston Globe reported that in 1986 – 1987 that AIDS patients were dying at a rate of about 80 per week.
By the end of Reagan’s presidential term on January 20, 1989 115,786 men mostly gay and some women had been diagnosed with AIDS in the United States—more then 70,000 of them had died.