Bruce Bartlett

In a recent column, I predicted that President Bush will likely be forced into a budget deal involving higher taxes sometime after next year's election because of rising interest rates. Some of my friends thought I was endorsing such an action. I was not. But my experience in Washington over the last 25 years left me no choice but to come to this conclusion. The stars are aligning for a tax increase, and I think being forewarned means being forearmed.

Peter Wallison, who was White House counsel to President Reagan, responded to my analysis in The New York Times on Oct. 26. He pointed to Ronald Reagan's resistance to tax increases in 1982, citing passages from Reagan's diary that were published in his autobiography, "An American Life." The gist of Wallison's article is that Ronald Reagan successfully resisted efforts by his staff and many in Congress to raise taxes, thereby ensuring the victory of Reaganomics.

The only problem with this analysis is that it is historically inaccurate. Reagan may have resisted calls for tax increases, but he ultimately supported them. In 1982 alone, he signed into law not one but two major tax increases. The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act raised taxes by $37.5 billion per year, and the Highway Revenue Act of 1982 raised the gasoline tax by another $3.3 billion.

According to a recent Treasury Department study, TEFRA alone raised taxes by almost 1 percent of the gross domestic product, making it the largest peacetime tax increase in American history. An increase of similar magnitude today would raise more than $100 billion per year.

In 1983, Reagan signed legislation raising the Social Security tax rate. This is a tax increase that lives with us still, since it initiated automatic increases in the taxable wage base. As a consequence, those with moderately high earnings see their payroll taxes rise every single year.

The following year, Reagan signed another big tax increase in the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984. This raised taxes by $18 billion per year or 0.4 percent of GDP. A similar sized tax increase today would be about $44 billion.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 raised taxes yet again. Even the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which was designed to be revenue-neutral, contained a net tax increase in its first two years. And the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 raised taxes still more.


Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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