Would Reagan have been kicked to the curb today?

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee gets no love from the Flash Report.  Jon Fleischman has a brief post about this with a link to site about the sins against conservatives committed by “Tax Hike Mike.”

Yet, based on the same standards Huckabee is being held to by conservatives, how would Ronald Reagan have fared? Reagan raised taxes — more than once — and protected entitlements during his presidency and yet he continues to be revered by conservatives. 

Here’s an excerpt from a 2001 piece in Washington Monthly. :

Reagan also vastly expanded one of the largest federal domestic programs, Social Security. Before becoming president, he had often openly mused, much to the alarm of his politically sensitive staff, about restructuring Social Security to allow individuals to opt out of the system–an antecedent of today’s privatization plans. At the start of his administration, with Social Security teetering on the brink of insolvency, Reagan attempted to push through immediate draconian cuts to the program. But the Senate unanimously rebuked his plan, and the GOP lost 26 House seats in the 1982 midterm elections, largely as a result of this overreach. 

The following year, Reagan made one of the greatest ideological about-faces in the history of the presidency, agreeing to a $165 billion bailout of Social Security. In almost every way, the bailout flew in the face of conservative ideology. It dramatically increased payroll taxes on employees and employers, brought a whole new class of recipients–new federal workers–into the system, and, for the first time, taxed Social Security benefits, and did so in the most liberal way: only those of upper-income recipients. (As an added affront to conservatives, the tax wasn’t indexed to inflation, meaning that more and more people have gradually had to pay it over time.)

By expanding rather than scaling back entitlements, Reagan–and Newt Gingrich after him–demonstrated that conservatives could not and would not launch a frontal assault on Social Security, effectively conceding that these cherished New Deal programs were central features of the American polity.

“Mondale Would Have Been Proud”

It’s conservative lore that Reagan the icon cut taxes, while George H.W. Bush the renegade raised them. As Stockman recalls, “No one was authorized to talk about tax increases on Ronald Reagan’s watch, no matter what kind of tax, no matter how justified it was.” Yet raising taxes is exactly what Reagan did. He did not always instigate those hikes or agree to them willingly–but he signed off on them. One year after his massive tax cut, Reagan agreed to a tax increase to reduce the deficit that restored fully one-third of the previous year’s reduction. (In a bizarre bit of self-deception, Reagan, who never came to terms with this episode of ideological apostasy, persuaded himself that the three-year, $100 billion tax hike–the largest since World War II–was actually “tax reform” that closed loopholes in his earlier cut and therefore didn’t count as raising taxes.)

Faced with looming deficits, Reagan raised taxes again in 1983 with a gasoline tax and once more in 1984, this time by $50 billion over three years, mainly through closing tax loopholes for business. Despite the fact that such increases were anathema to conservatives–and probably cost Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, reelection–Reagan raised taxes a grand total of four times just between 1982-84.

So we can add raising taxes and grew government to Ronald Reagan’s last hurrah.

  1 comment for “Would Reagan have been kicked to the curb today?

  1. RHackett
    February 5, 2008 at 5:56 am

    Conservatives talk about Reagan the same way gay men talk about Streisand. They’re in love with an image that isn’t even close to being supported by the reality.

Comments are closed.