Email #332: “benefit of hindsight”?

The day after the GOP released its tax plan last week, the first national poll showed that only 33% of Americans support it, while 50% oppose it. Though you have said it’s designed to help the middle class, 60% see that it favors the wealthy.

Why aren’t Americans coming together to support this bill? President Trump wrote in USAToday on October 22, the anniversary of President Reagan signing the Tax Reform Act of 1986:

“Republicans and Democrats came together to cut taxes for hardworking families in 1981, and again in 1986 to simplify the tax code, so that everyone could get a fair shake… We have the benefit of hindsight as we look back at the three decades since our country’s last major tax reform. We can see what worked and what did not.”

The President is right. Republicans and Democrats did come together in 1986, and we should use the benefit of hindsight to understand why that worked.

The 1986 Tax Reform closed loopholes, increased personal exemptions, increased standard deductions, and even increased the capital-gains tax, balancing the revenue lost from reduced corporate taxes and so keeping the deficit under control. This balanced approach resulted in the bill passing by wide margins, 292 to 136 in the House and 74 to 23 in the Senate. This was despite Democrats holding a majority in the House and nearly half the seats in the Senate—where they soon took a 5-seat majority in the elections held two weeks after the tax reform was enacted.

The so-called Reagan tax cut was a bipartisan bill sponsored by a Democratic senator and a Democratic representative and passed by more Democratic votes than Republican. When President Reagan signed it into law, he was surrounded by both Democrats and Republicans. Even opposition was evenly split with 11 Republicans and 12 Democrats voting against the bill. In the House, 86 Republicans and 74 Democrats opposed it too.

In contrast, the proposed Trump tax plan has attracted no Democrats and has already lost the votes of 21 Republicans, while others approved its budget blueprint while expressing serious misgivings. Instead of seeking bipartisan compromise, Senate Republicans enacted special budgetary rules that would enable a tax bill to pass by 50 instead of 60 votes–the same approach they applied to repealing Obamacare and failed. Instead of modeling the proposal on Reagan’s aisle-bridging and revenue-balancing approach, President Trump and GOP leaders are attempting to push through an exclusively partisan and deficit-expanding bill in a matter of weeks. The 1986 plan took nearly two years.

Why isn’t the GOP following President Trump’s advice and using the benefit of hindsight to see what worked then and so what is not working now?

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017).

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