Guest post by Andrew Murphy
In the immortal words of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Jeb Bush has been a “very naughty boy.” Bush spoke out a few days ago suggesting his father, George H Bush, and Ronald Reagan would have a hard time being accepted in the current climate of the GOP because of the Tea Party. Of course George H Bush was always considered a RINO (Republican in Name Only) by the radical Right, one of the reasons paleoconservative columnist Pat Buchanan ran against him in the GOP presidential primary in 1992. But Reagan?
Actually the Reagan record is much more complex than the mythology and Jeb Bush deserves credit for raising this issue.
Reagan indeed did cut marginal tax rates. The Economy Recovery Act of 1981 dropped top rates of taxes from 70 percent to 50 percent and bottom rates from 14 percent to 11 percent. Furthermore in 1986, the Tax Reform Act lowered again the top rates on personal income tax from 50 percent to 28 percent. This part is true.
However what is missing is the several times Reagan raised taxes during his presidency. The 1982 Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act is still the largest tax increase in peacetime history. Reagan supported the Greenspan Commission which worked on reforming Social Security. Working with Democrats in Congress, Reagan helped raise the FICA tax to shore up the Social Security system, a program Reagan as late as 1976 was arguing should be voluntary.
Reagan raised the gasoline tax in 1982 and raised corporate taxes by $120 billion. As libertarian Sheldon Richman pointed out in 1988, “Taxes by the end of the Reagan era will be as large a chunk of GNP as when he took office, if not larger: 19.4%, by ultra-conservative estimate of the Reagan Office of Management and Budget. The so-called historic average is 18.3%.”
Reagan did nothing to eliminate government programs. The only government agency that was abolished in entirety during his adminstration was the Civil Aeronautics Board in 1984. The CAB had very little to do anymore since Jimmy Carter deregulated the airline industry in 1978. Which is rather ironic, since it is often forgotten by liberals that Carter did far more deregulation than Reagan.
There were 2, 875,000 federal government employees when Reagan became president in 1981. By the time he left in January of 1989, there were 3,113,000 government employees. In 1987 Reagan elevated the Veterans Administration to a Cabinet level agency.
Bank Bailouts and “Too Big to Fail”
Like George W Bush and Barack Obama. Reagan was willing to use the public purse to bail out the financial sector. In 1984 Reagan bailed out Continental Illinois Bank because his administration believed it was “too big to fail.” The FDIC guaranteed the $30 billion in deposits and assumed the $3.5 billion in the bank’s debts.
When the savings and loan industry faced a financial disaster, Reagan along with George H Bush came to its aid. Between 1986 to 1995 the federal government used over $124 billion of taxpayer money to guarantee the S&Ls’ holdings.
Earned Income Tax Credit
Today many on the Right complain that many Americans no longer have an income tax obligation. A good deal of this has to do with the Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC is a tax credit that mostly benefits low-income Americans and those with children. It is a tax credit first started by the Nixon administration. In some ways it is a type of negative income tax that Milton Friedman advocated most of his life. Today the EITC is considered an evil by many on the Right. Yet it was Ronald Reagan who expanded the EITC and Reagan who said at the time, “The Earned Income Tax Credit is the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.”
Reagan had no desire, unlike conservatives today, to get America entangled in the Middle East. After the horrific bombing in Lebanon in 1983 which killed 241 American servicemen, Reagan pulled US troops out of the region.
Reagan had no truck with ideological adventurism. His administration aided the Contra rebels, both overtly and covertly, in Nicaragua. But when pressed by conservatives at National Review and Commentary magazine to use American ground troops to overthrow the Sandinista regime, Reagan exploded to his staff, “Those sons of bitches won’t be happy until we have 25,000 troops in Managua…..I’m not going to do it.”
After refusing to deal with the Soviets in his first term, Reagan softened his attitude after Margret Thatcher spoke with him and told him that Mikhail Gorbachev was a man they could do business with.
Reagan was attacked by militant Cold Warriors as selling them out by meeting Gorbachev in Reykjavik to discuss cutting back on nuclear proliferation. Conservative activist Howard Phillips called Reagan at the time a “useful idiot” of the Soviets.
In 1986 Reagan granted amnesty to three million illegal immigrants.
The Second Amendment
Reagan supported gun control.
Record as Governor of California
Reagan legalized abortion in the state, a full six years before Roe vs Wade made it legal nationally in 1973. He implemented the right of prisoners in California jails to have conjugal visits with spouses and implemented some of California’s first environmental regulations. He raised state taxes by one-third.
Thus Jeb Bush is absolutely correct. If one were to show Reagan’s record as governor and president to a Tea Partier and black out his name, he or she would probably swear it was the record of a GOP RINO like Gerald Ford or even a, gulp… Democrat.