Michael Barone

Are Republican politicians trying to frame a policy agenda stuck in a Reagan rut? A good case can be made that they are -- or have been.

Tax cuts have been a staple of Republican platforms since Jack Kemp persuaded Ronald Reagan to back a 30 percent tax rate cut in the 1980 campaign. Republicans, with some Democratic support, passed cuts for everyone under Reagan and George W. Bush.

But the heavy emphasis was on tax cuts for high earners. They contribute to economic growth by stimulating entrepreneurship and encouraging innovation, the argument goes.

Congressional Republicans earlier this year were forced to acquiesce in raising the high-end rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. Looking ahead, they would like to cut it back if and when they win the White House and congressional majorities.

More than that, many Republicans support efforts by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp to fashion a 1986-style tax reform act that would cut rates and eliminate tax preferences.

These are intellectually defensible policies with the potential to stimulate economic growth. But they may not be sufficient for the times.

Broad-based tax reform can be passed only by a bipartisan coalition, as in 1986. It's not a policy suitable for a campaign.

And the case for tax cuts on high earners is not as strong as in 1980, when the top rates were 70 percent on "unearned" investment income and 50 percent on wages and salaries.

Cutting those rates ultimately to 28 percent clearly stimulated the economy. Paring the rate from 39.6 percent back to 35 percent won't have as great an effect -- and won't bring immediate benefit to a large majority of voters.

It might make more political and economic sense to cut that rate just a few tenths of a point every year, as Gov. John Engler did in Michigan in the 1990s and several Republican governors and legislatures have done recently.

But there is another factor that may be holding growth down more than high tax rates. And that is the widespread disintegration of the family structure.

As Utah Senator Mike Lee noted in speeches at the Heritage Foundation, "the problem of poverty is linked to family breakdown and the erosion of marriage among low-income families and communities."

Lee is careful not to cast opprobrium on single or divorced parents. But he insists on pointing to the uncomfortable but undeniable fact that economic outcomes for their children have been far worse than those for children raised in two-parent families.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM