“Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” This was the question President Reagan asked voters in his bid for reelection. It was also the question echoed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention. Romney didn’t mention that Reagan, when addressing the Georgia crowd in 1985, also asked, “Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver, or less?” The crowd roared, “More!” Romney’s plan to stimulate the economy includes deregulation, cutting taxes to the wealthy and eliminating deductions for the poor and the middle class, such as dependent care, education and mortgage interest.
Ironically, Romney’s question took aim at the middle class and asked if they are better off today than they were when President Obama took office. As a nation the answer is obvious. The economy is dismal and grew only 1.7 percent in the second quarter of this year, which is hardly enough to keep pace with an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent. But without examining economic policies of the recent past, the question is simply another slogan intended to assign blame and garner votes. Today’s extreme Republican tax policies conflict with respected and conservative Republicans of our past.
For example, President Reagan raised taxes 11 times in eight years and said, “We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair
share,” a position today’s Republicans vehemently oppose. Reagan claimed that such tax loopholes, “…made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing…and that’s crazy.”
According to Robert Greenstein, president of the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “It was not a Democrat who led the effort in 1982 to undo about a third of the Reagan tax cuts. It was Bob Dole,” the then-ultra conservative Republican Senate Majority Leader. According to David Stockman, Reagan’s Budget Director, Reagan embraced tax hikes to the wealthy “because he believed that, at some point, you have to pay the bills,” a simple matter of mathematics.
President George H. W. Bush addressed the soaring deficit, when he took office, by increasing taxes to the wealthy 31 percent and adding surtaxes on yachts, jets and luxury sedans. Republican Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill said, “he had courage to take action when we needed it.” Bush lost his reelection bid and according to Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform and deemed a fiscal terrorist by Republican Senator Alan Simpson, Bush’s defeat was a reminder that you don’t break the “no taxes” pledge. His million dollar non-profit organization is funded by wealthy donors and corporate interests.
When President Clinton assumed office he paid the national debt, balanced the budget and left a surplus in his wake by increasing the top tax bracket by nearly 40 percent and boosting the corporate tax rate to 35 percent. Former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee said of the Clinton tax hikes, “It cost him both houses of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections, but taming the deficit led to the best economy America’s ever had.” Following the 1993 tax hikes stocks soared by 78 percent, 22.9 million new jobs were created, wages increased an average of 17 percent between 1993 and 2000, after adjusting for inflation, and unemployment dropped to 4 percent.
However, Clinton’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, over the objection of his financial advisors, cut taxes to the wealthy and the gross national debt increased to $10.7 trillion by December 2008. He entered an eight year deficit war in search of weapons of mass destruction that never materialized. His tax measures allowed US corporations to hide profits of over $1.4 trillion in offshore accounts costing taxpayers approximately $70 billion in annual revenues. General Electric company boasted profits of more than $14 billion in 2009 and received a $3 billion tax rebate for oversea tax shelter expenses as the economy continued to spiral downward.
President Obama assumed the $10.7 trillion national debt when taking office—a debt that increased to $15.5 trillion by February 2012, due mainly to reduced revenue resulting from the Bush tax cuts. Obama’s attempt to address the tax disparity was blocked by Republicans who seized control of the House in the 2010 midterm election. And rather than raise the debt ceiling and avoid future deficits of $4 trillion, which required closing tax loopholes to the wealthy, Republicans vowed to make Obama a one term president and pushed through $1 trillion in cuts to education, health care and defense in order to safeguard tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.
Today, according to President Reagan’s Budget Director David Stockman, “The Republican Party has totally abdicated its job in our democracy, which is to act as the guardian of fiscal discipline and responsibility…they are on an anti-tax jihad—one that benefits the prosperous classes.” The Republican leadership of the past would not survive their party’s extreme views of today if they refuse to bow to wealthy interest, as did Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
Consequently, the answer to Romney’s question is, “Yes.” You are better off today than you were four years ago if you are one of the 400 wealthiest Americans. According to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, “Most Americans got none of the growth of the preceding dozen years. All the gains went to the top percentage points.” Stiglitz went on to say, “The rich are using their money to secure tax provisions to let them get richer still. [They] get a better return by investing in Washington.” He posits that trickle-down economics is empirically wrong and belied by the facts. It is synonymous with the Republicans’ new economic proposal, supply-side economics, which touts deregulation and lower taxes for the wealthy.
Our government has become a plutocracy and Romney’s question is about much more than just money: it’s about dignity and a government for and by the people, not corporations or wealthy interest. Affordable public education, equal protection under the law, equity and opportunity will not be restored by failed policies and pseudo economics. I am better off today than I was four years ago because I have another opportunity to further improve the future of this country.