In Today’s GOP, Reagan Is A RINO
I’ve already written this week about the extent to which Republican hawks have subverted and misrepresented Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy agenda to suit their rhetoric, but the ongoing battle over the debt ceiling and taxes illustrates even better the extent to which the real Ronald Reagan bears little resemblance to the GOP as it exists today:
With the nation at risk of default next month, the Republicans’ fierce anti-tax orthodoxy is running square into the Ghost of the Gipper— the GOP’s great modern, pre-tea party hero, Ronald Reagan.
Indeed, a POLITICO review of Reagan’s own budget documents shows that the Republican president repeatedly signed deficit-reduction legislation in the 1980’s that melded annual tax increases with spending cuts just as President Barack Obama is now asking Congress to consider.
The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA) is the most famous, because of its historic size and timing, a dramatic course correction that quickly followed Reagan’s signature income tax cuts in 1981. But in the six years after were four more deficit-reduction acts, which combined to almost double TEFRA’s revenue impact on an annual basis.
A table in one of Reagan’s final budget submissions spells this out.
For 1991, the document projects $61.6 billion in revenue increases attributed to TEFRA. At the same time, the four other smaller deficit-reduction acts were expected to add a total of $53 billion in revenues on an annual basis.
Translated into current dollars, the total revenue increases for the five bills would then be equal to about $190 billion a year. That’s far in excess of anything that has been proposed by the White House in recent deficit talks led by Vice President Joseph Biden, yet most of these increases were approved when Republicans controlled the Senate in the 1980’s.
In the Biden deficit talks, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has pegged the administration’s tax options at raising about $400 billion over 10 years -or an average of $40 billion annually. White House officials have indicated they are prepared to accept less, but there is clearly some competition between the need for deficit reduction up front vs. paying for corporate tax reform in the future.
In other words, the annual tax increases contemplated by the Administration, most of which consists of eliminating deductions, credits, and loopholes rather than raising rates, is equal to about 20% of the tax increases put into effect over the course of the Reagan years. < Part of the problem is that the GOP has pretty much completely bought into the somewhat silly idea pushed by Grover Norquist and others that any change in tax policy that results in higher revenue counts as a “tax increase.” Under this logic, even a reduction in tax rates could count as a “tax increase” if it led to higher revenue as predicted by the Laffer Curve. When language gets distorted in this manner it ends up becoming useless. When it becomes actual policy you end up with perverse results, like Republicans saying that absolutely no “tax increases” (as defined by the Norquistians) would be on the table during debt ceiling negotiations.
This may be ideological purity, but it doesn’t strike me as responsible government. If Republicans controlled the White House, the House, and had enough of a majority in the Senate to avoid filibusters, then it would be realistic to talk this way. In the current environment, all it serves to do is to make the base happy while causing gridlock in Washington.
Ronald Reagan came into the White House with the promise that he would turn the economy around by cutting taxes. By August of his first year he had delivered on that promise,and he did it despite the fact that the House was controlled by the opposition and his own party had a slim three seat majority in the Senate. One year later, though, he signed into law one of the largest tax increases in history, followed in 1986 by a major tax overhaul that, while it lowered rates, ended many popular deductions and increased revenues. He did things like this because he, and fellow Republicans at the time like Howard Baker and Alan Simpson, knew that governing could not be held hostage by ideological purity, and that compromise isn’t a dirty word.
But that isn’t the Ronald Reagan that most conservatives know today. Instead of the reality, or the actual history provided by former advisers like David Stockman and Bruce Bartlett, they are imbued with Rush Limbaugh’s Ronaldus Magnus, a false characterization of a Ronald Reagan who governed as some sort of uber-conservative super being. Anyone who actually lived through the 1980s knows that it isn’t true, but it seems to be the only way that contemporary conservatives can keep Reagan in their pantheon, because if they actually acknowledged his real record they’d be forced to denounce him as a RINO.
UPDATE (James Joyner): See also my October 2010 post, “Ronald Reagan: RINO.” If you think President Reagan would have alienated the Tea Party types, you should see Governor Reagan.