Prior to the election, Kennedy had planned to present to Congress a sweeping legislative program similar to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first “100 days.” The closeness of the election caused him to proceed more cautiously, but in his first months in office he sent CONGRESS a record number of messages proposing broad programs to promote more rapid economic growth, rehabilitate depressed areas, improve urban housing and development, reform tax legislation, revise the farm program, conserve and develop natural resources, aid education, and provide better medical care for the aged. In effect, he was establishing his long-range goals. At the time he obtained little more from Congress than relatively short-range legislation to help pull the nation out of a mild recession in 1961.
Kennedy’s domestic program remained largely in the planning stage throughout his administration. Congress did not heed his urging for programs of tax reform and aid to education, and it killed his proposals for a department of urban affairs and for medical aid for the aged. In January 1963 he proposed a reduction in income taxes as a means of stimulating economic growth. Congress, however, delayed passage of the tax cut until February 1964, three months after his death.
Kennedy’s action on a proposed steel price increase in 1962 resulted in one of the most controversial domestic issues of his administration. In March of that year he persuaded the united steelworkers to accept a contract he hailed as “noninflationary.” A few days later, the United States Steel Corporation announced an increase of 3.5% in its prices, and most other steel companies did likewise. In the three days that followed, Kennedy brought such intense pressure to bear that the companies rescinded the increases. But in the aftermath, businessmen widely criticized the president as being hostile to them.
Civil Rights was the most difficult national problem to face President Kennedy. Throughout his political career he had taken a moderate stand on civil rights, although his administration gave strong legal support to the foes of segregation. In June 1963, as pressure for racial equality mounted, the president addressed the nation, declaring that the United States faced a “moral crisis” as a result of discontent among blacks. Later that month he sent a special message to Congress, calling for extensive civil rights legislation. As with the tax cut, Congress delayed action and did not pass a comprehensive civil rights bill until the summer of 1964, after the president’s death.