The GOP's response to the president's call for higher tax rates on upper-income Americans came fast and furious. The president's proposal, Republicans warned, was "class warfare" and a "job killer" which will "kill the current recovery and put us back in a recession" and still "not give you deficit reduction."
As it turns out, the year was 1993, not 2012. At issue was Pres. Bill Clinton's $496 billion program to boost the recovery and trim long-term debt. What Republicans then predicted would be a disaster preceded the longest economic expansion in modern American history, a period which produced 23 million new jobs and a balanced budget. And as we saw once again in the intervening two decades, the U.S. economy grew faster and produced more jobs when tax rates for the wealthy were higher—even much higher—than today.
Nevertheless, the GOP has dusted off its 20-year-old, debunked sound bites in reaction to Pres. Obama's proposal Monday to temporarily extend the Bush tax cuts only for the first $250,000 families earn each year. His Republican rival Mitt Romney called the return of upper-income tax rates to their slightly higher Clinton-era levels a "massive tax increase" for "on families, job creators, and small businesses." Despite their impact on only about three percent of small businesses, House Speaker John Boehner warned, "The president is out there calling for a tax increase on Americans job creators," adding, "How raising taxes on small business men and women will help our economy, I can't quite figure out." And while GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) branded the president's plan an "economic disaster," RNC chairman Reince Priebus accused Obama of playing a "divisive rich versus poor game."
Of course, if this all sounds familiar, it should. As it turns out, today's Republicans are merely regurgitating the same bogus talking points their GOP predecessors vomited forth back in 1993.
(Continue reading below the fold.)
If Barack Obama's experience with record-setting Republican obstructionism has been painful, Bill Clinton's was unprecedented at the time. When Clinton's 1993 economic program scraped by without capturing the support of even one GOP lawmaker, the New York Times remarked at the time:
Historians believe that no other important legislation, at least since World War II, has been enacted without at least one vote in either house from each major party.Inheriting massive budget deficits and stubborn unemployment from Bush the Elder, Clinton's $496 billion program was nonetheless opposed by every single member of the GOP, as well as defectors from his own party. As the Times recounted, it took a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Al Gore to earn victory:
An identical version of the $496 billion deficit-cutting measure was approved Thursday night by the House, 218 to 216. The Senate was divided 50 to 50 before Mr. Gore voted. Since tie votes in the House mean defeat, the bill would have failed if even one representative or one senator who voted with the President had switched sides.Throughout 1993, Pres. Clinton faced venomous—if completely baseless—charges from his Republican opponents. Newt Gingrich announced that February, "I believe that that will in fact kill the current recovery and put us back in a recession," while also warning the day before the budget vote, "This is the Democrat machine's recession, and each one of them will be held personally accountable." Bob Dole, Clinton's future reelection opponent, complained, "People out there in the real world just don't understand how record-setting tax increases and a taxpayer-financed spending spree by Congress will solve the deficit or put Americans back to work." Future-Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) told Clinton and the Democrats, "your economic program is a job killer" and predicted, "This plan will not work. If it was to work, then I'd have to become a Democrat." Meanwhile, future tea party sugar daddy Dick Armey read his tea leaves:
"Clearly this is a job killer in the short run. The revenues forecast for this budget will not materialize; the costs of this budget will be greater than what is forecast. The deficit will be worse, and it is not a good omen for the American economy."In August 1993, Republicans deployed their biggest gun—Ronald Reagan—to direct fire at Pres. Clinton. The Gipper, the same man who tripled the U.S. national debt in eight years, blasted away from the op-ed pages of the New York Times:
"The President's 'wonder plan' could be cited for deceptive advertising by the Food and Drug Administration. Job-killing taxes come right away, and hazy spending cuts are on the distant horizon. The five-year plan will likely impede economic growth and not come near its claim of $500 billion in deficit reduction."Most dramatic of all was Texas Sen. Phil Gramm. The same man who led the 1990s crusade to gut regulation of Wall Street and the IRS and later called America a "nation of whiners," boldly—and wrongly—predicted:
"I believe hundreds of thousands of people are going to lose their jobs ... I believe Bill Clinton will be one of those people."
The Republican naysayers were, of course, utterly wrong on every count. Bill Clinton kept his job and presided over a rapidly growing economy, expanding incomes, new stock market highs and a balanced budget. Clinton, who helped author one of the best eight-year economic performances of the modern presidents, bequeathed a CBO-estimated $5.6 trillion surplus to his successor, the man with the worst economic record. Alas, with his tax cut windfall for the wealthy, George W. Bush squandered the Clinton surpluses. For the record-high income inequality and historically low tax burden they helped produce, Bush and Congressional Republicans yielded only a million new jobs—and red ink as far as the eye could see.
As it turns out, another lesson was learned, or rather, relearned. Higher tax rates for the gilded class did not, as John Boehner warns now, "crush job creators." David Leonhardt of the New York Times asked in 2010, "Why should we believe that extending the Bush tax cuts will provide a big lift to growth?" His answer was unambiguous:
Those tax cuts passed in 2001 amid big promises about what they would do for the economy. What followed? The decade with the slowest average annual growth since World War II. Amazingly, that statement is true even if you forget about the Great Recession and simply look at 2001-7 [...]
Is there good evidence the tax cuts persuaded more people to join the work force (because they would be able to keep more of their income)? Not really. The labor-force participation rate fell in the years after 2001 and has never again approached its record in the year 2000.
Is there evidence that the tax cuts led to a lot of entrepreneurship and innovation? Again, no. The rate at which start-up businesses created jobs fell during the past decade.
Of course, 2012 is not 1993. The current economic crisis is far deeper and the recovery much slower. Yet Republican critics of Pres. Obama's proposals to boost taxes on America's rich and famous are nonetheless recycling the comically wrong talking points from their failed 1993 effort to stonewall Bill Clinton. All of the GOP's greatest hits—each demonstrably false—are once again drowning the airwaves. From "job killing tax hikes" and "hurting small business" to "punishing job creators" and "class warfare," the Republicans' tried and untrue talking points are back. As House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) fumed this week:
Very frankly, history shows that to be a fallacious argument. That was the argument they made in 1993 -- that we were going to destroy the economy; that deficits were going to explode; that unemployment would skyrocket, and that the stock market would tank.To put it another way, old, discredited GOP talking points never die and they don't fade away. And one other thing: Repeating them doesn't make them any more true.
That's the argument that [Dick] Armey made. That's the argument that [Newt] Gingrich made. That's the argument that [Tom] Delay made. That's the argument that every one of their people made. Every one of them. To a person. Unanimously.
They were dead flat wrong.