Alan Simpson: Best Damn Record of No Taxes of any Son-of-a-Bitch
Alan Simpson’s wit, candor, and integrity made him one of my favorite senators of all time. And now he’s fighting back against the interest groups that are killing our party.
Former Sen. Alan Simpson is none too pleased with conservatives who say he lacks sufficient antitax fervor. “I got the best damn record on no taxes of any son-of-a-bitch in the Senate,” says the blunt-speaking Wyoming Republican, the co-chairman of a new presidentially created deficit-reduction commission. In a prepared statement, Simpson adds, “I don’t intend to allow folks to distort who I am without responding with the facts. This `Mr. Tax Hike’ business is garbage.”
Americans for Tax Reform, a group headed by longtime conservative activist Grover Norquist, said after Simpson’s appointment in February that he voted for two bipartisan budget deals that contained real tax increases but phony spending cuts. One was in 1982 and the other was in 1990. “There is no reason to believe that things would be different this time around,” Norquist said in his statement. “When you put everything on the table, including damaging tax hikes, taxpayers will more than likely be sold out.”
In his counter-statement, Simpson notes that he earned consistently high ratings — often very high ratings — from various conservative groups for his voting record in the 1980s and 1990s, including the National Taxpayers Union Foundation and the American Conservative Union. Simpson chose not to seek re-election in 1996 after losing a leadership election to former Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi.
Simpson now seeks to explode the myth that President Ronald Reagan was an antitax paragon, and suggests that Reagan would have supported the deficit panel’s work.
“President Reagan was no fanatic or purist,” Simpson says. “There were several occasions during his eight years of real stewardship where taxes (however you define them) were raised….Whatever Ronald Reagan did, and whatever policies he embraced, he did for the good of the American people and for future generations of Americans. As co-chair of the President’s Commission, I would hunch that if President Reagan were alive and active, he would be supportive of the hard work and hard decisions which lie ahead for our Commission.”
As the formative figure at the time of my political awakening, Reagan was my political hero. He was an incredibly articulate spokesman for the political philosophy I held and, indeed, he helped shape. But Simpson is right: the Mythical Ronald Reagan differs radically from the Real Ronald Reagan.
The 1982 tax hike (formally, “Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982” or TEFRA) that Simpson voted for was in Reagan’s second year in office. It was an adjustment to the Kemp-Roth tax cuts of the previous year and was part of a compromise package championed by Reagan to control runaway deficits. As it turned out, it didn’t work out so well. Analysts differ on who’s to blame. Wikipedia:
The scheduled increases in accelerated depreciation deductions were repealed, a 10 percent withholding on dividends and interest paid to individuals was instituted, and the Federal Unemployment Tax Act wage base and tax rate were increased. Excise taxes on cigarettes were temporarily doubled, and excise taxes on telephone service temporarily tripled, in TEFRA.
President of the United States Ronald Reagan agreed to the tax hikes on the promise from Congress of a $3 reduction in spending for every $1 increase in taxes. Some conservatives, led by then-Congressman Jack Kemp, claim that the promised spending reductions never occurred. One week after TEFRA was signed, H.R. 6863 – the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1982 which Ronald Reagan claimed would “bust the budget” was passed by both houses of Congress over his veto. Four years later, then-budget director David Stockman, however, stated that Congress substantially upheld its end of the bargain, and cites the Administration’s failure to identify management savings and its resistance to defense spending cuts as the key impediments to greater outlay savings.
The 1990 tax cuts were agreed to by President George H.W. Bush in violation of his “Read my lips: No new taxes” pledge and quite likely cost him re-election. Again, however, it was part of a compromise with a Democratic Congress in a failed attempt to bring the deficit under control.
In fairness, both tax hikes were unpopular with Movement Conservatives even at the time. This was especially true of the Bush hike, since he lacked Reagan’s street cred with conservatives. Regardless, they both received substantial Republican support and were signed into law by Republican presidents.
Did Simpson really have “best damn record on no taxes of any son-of-a-bitch in the Senate”? Well, I’m sure there were sons-of-bitches who voted No more consistently. But that only gives them a better record than Simpson if they also voted to drastically cut spending. And maybe not even then, given that such votes would have been token. Simpson, on the other hand, worked to achieve compromises and then voted for the deal that both best achieved his goals and could get through Congress.
Simpson was a small-C conservative of the type frequently found out West. He believed in low taxes, yes, but also fiscal responsibility. And, absent the appetite to control spending — which Republicans make difficult by deifying the Defense budget — that sometimes means increasing taxes. But, Grover Norquist’s desires to the contrary, constantly cutting taxes while piling up debt isn’t conservative at all.
AP Photo/Ed Andrieski