by E.C. Fish on September 10, 2001

As is frequently the case in contemporary American political debate, the most astonishing thing about recent reaction to the results of the Bush tax cut on both the economy and federal revenues is just how astonished people are. With the revenue surplus a vague memory, the social security surplus threatened, and the legislative road ahead seemingly forked in the equally unappealing directions of sharply curtailed spending or renewed deficits, people both in and out of the Beltway are reacting with a kind of shock that ought to be unimaginable to anyone who was the least bit politically aware in the ’80’s.

For once in the Bush presidency, neither obfuscation by nor confusion on the part of the President and his staff can be blamed– from his earliest candidacy, Bush had promised a Reagan-style tax cut, and by god delivered one. If we were so astonishingly ignorant of recent history as to have forgotten what that meant, we really can’t blame the Republicans, at least if we set aside any arguments based on education spending. As Reagan administration Budget Director (and tax cut architect) David Stockman admitted as early as 1985, any economic boosting a tax cut might have given the economy was entirely secondary to the conservative Republican’s main goal of strangling as much government spending as possible. While Bush still seems to believe, in the childlike way that has so charmed a nation, that his tax cut package still has a chance to stimulate the economy, his almost gleeful observation that the mysterious disappearance of the surplus puts a “fiscal strait jacket” on Congress pretty much concedes the point for the next generation as well.

That he seems to think that the “fiscal strait jacket” will be roomy enough to fit a sizable defense increase, a dubious but expensive “accountability” plan for schools, and the many bribes to the energy industry included in his omnibus energy package shows a devotion to the political legacy of his dad’s old boss that can only be described as breathtakingly dangerous and completely irresponsible. The deficits run under Reagan and Bush Mark I were historic in size and responsible for over a decade’s worth of lost economic opportunities. George W seems to be steering precisely the same economic course, in wildly different circumstances.

That George W’s economic plan should wreck such havoc in such a short time is fairly amazing. That it’s designed to wreck more and more havoc as it goes on, phasing in more and more tax cuts and raising less and less revenue every year for the next ten, is nothing short of stultifying. With the vast majority of the population having already received all the tax relief they’ll ever receive under the Bush plan, and with the vast majority of the monetary value of future cuts going to a small minority of ultra wealthy citizens, the answer seems clear– a rescinding of those parts of the tax cut that can no longer be afforded without the surplus. This, alas, is probably not to be– already Bush has begun to chide those who would “raise taxes” (as if canceling a cut were the same as instituting an increase), and the Democrats, never ones to risk bold action where harsh rhetoric might be used, are unlikely to breach that particular line in the sand. Instead, Republicans are proposing a cut in the capital gains tax, which, admittedly, would be likely to raise revenues in the short term. The fact that it would do so by giving the same moneyed minority scheduled to benefit from the remaining stages of the first Bush tax cut yet another enormous windfall in the name of getting more cash flowing in the economy brings to mind another Reaganism– the “trickle down” theory, which stated that richer rich people mean richer people in general. It mostly didn’t work then, and probably won’t work now.

It will, however, reward the President’s contributors, another key agenda point for Bush. It’s time to face facts– after hearing the President posit the same set of twenty year old ideas as “the right thing to do” through a year during which circumstances have swung about 180 degrees, no person in good faith can any longer believe that those ideas and those circumstances are in any way connected. The President wants to enrich the wealthy and starve the government, using ideas that have been proven to do exactly that. Whether or not he believes they’ll actually help anyone outside his social class is pretty much moot– Reagan seemed to, and they still didn’t.

Meanwhile, those of us who feel lucky to have gotten through this particular program the first time can only look on in wonder. This isn’t deja vu– it’s those ignorant of history doomed to repeat it.


This piece appeared in the original Spleen

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Todd Weissenberger June 13, 2012 at 3:24 pm

And then the shit really hit the fan.


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