Politico Punctures The Gipper Mythology

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

I've always been amused watching conservatives attack progressives for their "worship" of Obama (alternately and pejoratively dubbed "The Obamessiah" or simply "The One") and then raise their own voices in unalloyed praise of Ronald Reagan, who they insist saved America by relentlessly cutting taxes and shrinking government. The beatification of Reagan by the right, however, is a classic example of mythology overtaking the man. Ronald Reagan -- the small-government champion of trickle-down economics -- raised taxes.

He raised taxes quite a bit, actually. And he did so both to reduce the deficit and stabilize Social Security. The media have been lax in pointing this out whenever Republican presidential candidates proudly declare their tax-cutting, deficit-exploding economic plans to be a continuation of the policies laid out by the 40th president. So it was refreshing to see Politico publish a good examination of Reagan's tax-hiking policies and how they would fare in today's political climate:

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.


In Reagan's case, he also signed major tax reform and his signature 1981 tax cuts forever changed the landscape.

A decade after his 1981 Economic Recovery Act, for example, Reagan budgets predicted those tax cuts would reduce annual receipts for the Treasury by as much as $350.2 billion. But the same tables also show that the combination of TEFRA and the four other deficit-reduction bills effectively took back a third of this in the name of deficit reduction.

The rich diversity of Reagan-era tax changes is most striking, impacting even such conservative priorities now as the estate tax. At the same time, Reagan also signed laws to double the federal gasoline tax to build more roads and increase payroll taxes to stabilize Social Security.

This part of the Reagan legacy is often overlooked, owing in large part to the determined right-wing effort to push the Reagan myth at the expense of historical accuracy.

Posted In
Economy, Taxes
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