For the past few years, liberals have tried various ways to appropriate Ronald Reagan’s legacy. The latest sad attempt has been to enlist the Gipper to defend the notion that the only way to deal with the debt-ceiling crisis is to impose a trillion dollars of new taxes. “I find myself these days quoting Ronald Reagan,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat. ” ‘The full consequences of a default,’ she said, ‘or even the serious prospect of a default by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. … The nation can ill afford to allow such a result.’ ” Last week, MSNBC host Chris Matthews took some of Reagan’s quotes on taxes out of context and chided, “Would Reagan even be a Republican today?” A.B. Stoddard of The Hill said that Ronald Reagan “would not be able to win the Republican party nomination in 2011, period.” Even President Obama got into the act in his Monday night speech. No doubt the 40th president is in heaven smiling sadly and shaking his head. There they go again.
Reagan would never be a willing co-conspirator in a plan to impose the largest tax increase in American history. The big-tax proponents are willfully misrepresenting his views, something easily demonstrated by looking at Reagan’s record. When the debt ceiling was being debated during the 1980 campaign season, Republicans in Congress introduced a plan by then-candidate Reagan that would have tied an across-the-board 10 percent tax cut to any expansion of the government’s ability to borrow. Democrats dismissed this as a campaign stunt, but it accurately reflected Reagan’s policy priorities.
In his speech Monday night Mr. Obama quoted Mr. Reagan speaking August 11, 1982 in Billings. Montana: “Would you rather reduce deficits and interest rates by raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share, or would you rather accept larger budget deficits, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment? And I think I know your answer.” At that time Mr. Reagan had reluctantly agreed to a deal in which the Democratic Congress promised to reduce spending by $3 for every $1 in new revenue. But this Faustian bargain only demonstrates why House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, is holding the line on taxes today. During the Reagan years, Congress went ahead and imposed the agreed-on taxes but quickly broke the spending-cut pledge and instead pursued even greater budget increases. As Reagan later lamented, “Congress never cut spending by even one penny.”
But Mr. Reagan would not be fooled again. In a 1983 debt-ceiling debate, Reagan threatened to veto any measure that contained tax hikes. “I am unalterably opposed to Congress‘ efforts to raise taxes on individuals and businesses,” he said. His administration “did not come to Washington to raise the peoples’ taxes. We came here to restore opportunity and get this economy moving again. We do not face large deficits because Americans aren’t taxed enough. We face those deficits because the Congress still spends too much.”
The only area in which today’s liberals are eager to slash spending is in America’s military budget, something they also tried during the Reagan era. The Great Communicator, however, was a man of strong principle and straight talk. In a 1987 radio address to the nation, he decried the Democratic drive to weaken America and put the country in more debt. “For those who say further responsible spending reductions are not possible,” Reagan said, “they are wrong. For those who say the only choice is undermining our national security … they are wrong. For those who say more taxes will solve our deficit problems, they are wrong.”
If Mr. Obama and the tax-and-spend liberals want to quote from the Reagan record, let them use that one. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.