When Republicans Were Sane and a Bush Raised Taxes

Bill Scher

Yesterday the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation presented former President George H. W. Bush with its “Profile In Courage” award in honor of his decision to risk his political future and compromise with Democrats by raising taxes.

Unfortunately, Bush did not accept the award in person. His granddaughter read a written statement, which avoided politics. It would have been much more interesting to see Bush make a robust defense of compromise and renounce right-wing tax cut absolutism.

But in accepting the award, Bush rendered inoperative his 1992 attempt to disown the deal, when he told the Republican convention, “Well, it was a mistake to go along with the Democratic tax increase, and I admit it.”

In fact, Bush was relatively more defiant in the book he published last year “All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings”. He wrote:

I will confess to feeling a little vindicated in 1998 when the federal budget deficit was finally erased and a number of economists, journalists, and government officials cited “Bush’s 1990 budget compromise”…

It was the combination of the Bush deal and subsequent tax increases enacted by Bill Clinton which helped to eliminate the Reagan budget deficit without harming the economy. After Reagan slashed the top tax rate to 28%, Bush nudged it up to 31% then Clinton took it to 39.6%.

Also of note, Bush and his fellow Republicans insisted on increasing the gas tax as part of the 1990 deal, something which made the overall deal regressive but at least served to reduce energy consumption.

These were choices that sane, serious, responsible and flexible people do when they take governing seriously.

Whereas today’s active Republicans, when given the hypothetical choice of a deal with $10 of spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases, all say no.

Interestingly, one inactive Republican said he would take that deal: Jeb Bush.

Mind you, a 10-for-1 deal would be an extremely conservative deal that nearly every Democrat would reject. Jeb’s accepting of it doesn’t make him moderate, or especially courageous. It just makes him not deranged, or mathematically challenged.

Still, the comment certainly would complicate his running for president in a Republican primary, as his father’s breaking of the “no new taxes” pledge complicated his re-election campaign. But the elder Bush did survive a primary challenge, and his eventual loss in the general election had far more to do with his inaction during the recession than the tax hike. After all, Bill Clinton’s tax increase did not stop his re-election. And right-wing tax cut absolutism did not stop President Obama’s re-election.

Whereas the lack of seriousness in today’s Republican Party continues to be albatross preventing them from being competitive in national elections. That should make Republicans reflect on how far astray they have gone from the days of H. W. Bush.

If Republicans want to be a majority party again, they need to find another profile in courage.

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