He is the new tax collector for the welfare state. And House Speaker John Boehner’s latest gift to the American people — a 124% tax increase on air travel — can aptly be called The Air Boehner Tax.
But first…a short time travel trip.
The date: Monday. January 11, 1982
The place: The White House
Wrote President Ronald Reagan in his diary of this day:
Repub. House Leaders came down to the W.H. —Except for Jack Kemp they are h—l bent on new taxes…
Another date: Wednesday, August 4, 1982
The place: The White House.
Another entry from Reagan’s diary:
Met with Jack Kemp (alone) & then in leadership meeting. He is adamant that we are wrong on the tax increase. He is in fact unreasonable. The tax increase is the price we pay to get the budget cuts.
Kemp could not have disagreed more, and this episode from 1982 is worth recalling as Speaker Boehner and Congressman Paul Ryan go about the business of selling the Ryan-Murray budget deal.
A budget deal that specifically imposes a 124% tax increase on air travelers, as noted in the Daily Caller.
As Reagan correctly recorded at the time, Congressman Jack Kemp, the leading proponent of the tax cuts that were the foundation of the job-creating machine that was famously scorned by Democrats as “Reaganomics” furiously opposed the tax increase that was pushed not only by congressional Democrats but, tellingly, the House and Senate Republican leadership as well. Specifically then-Senate Finance Committee chairman, Kansas GOP Senator Bob Dole.
Said Kemp, as quoted in Steven F. Hayward’s The Age of Reagan:
“I didn’t come to Washington to raise taxes,” adding later in a House floor speech that the tax bill wouldn’t affect you as long as “you don’t use the telephone, don’t pay medical premiums, don’t suffer losses due to theft or casualty, don’t smoke, don’t ride in airplanes, or don’t have a savings account.” He sent Reagan a letter signed by sixty-one GOP House members saying that the Dole tax bill was “impossible to support.… Quietly, without debate, the Republican Party is in danger of making a U-turn back to its familiar role of tax collector for Democratic spending programs.”
That last line of Kemp’s later proved to be the origin of a famous Newt Gingrich remark during the battle over the 1984 GOP platform that Senator Bob Dole (and by extension Establishment House and Senate Republicans) was “the tax collector for the welfare state.”
Take a look over here at this December 12 story in the Washington Post headlined “Bob Dole honored for work in helping to feed the poor.”
The essence of the story?
Lauding Bob Dole for his role in understanding that expansion of the federal government was the equivalent of compassion. Wrote Post reporter Melinda Henneberger:
When Dole and (George) McGovern, a South Dakota Democrat who died last year, served together on the Senate Hunger and Human Needs Committee in the ’70s, they teamed up to make food stamps easier to get and use, and made fraud more difficult. They expanded the school lunch program and helped establish the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC.
In 2002, long after both had retired from politics, they successfully lobbied Congress to fund an international school lunch program. Since then, its administrators say, the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Fund has fed 22 million children in 41 countries and consistently boosted school enrollment, particularly for girls.
In other words, tax-collecting Bob Dole was the evolved face of GOP compassion because he had agreed with uber-left-winger George McGovern that the idea of Big Government was in fact Compassion. If the entire United States of America went bankrupt…screwing millions out of everything from their livelihoods to their businesses to their healthcare and made them wards of the government to boot? Hey. No…Big…Deal.
Said Dole, as quoted in the Post: “But aren’t bipartisan meetings great? Too bad we can’t have more of them.” Yahoo! Pop the champagne!
This long-ago battle between Reagan and Kemp (a rare disagreement as the two were both longtime friends and allies) — and as exemplified by this just-the-other-day citing of the Dole alliance with that legendary most-far-left-transformer-of-America-George McGovern — is once again in the spotlight as Speaker Boehner lashes out at conservatives as he makes the case for the Ryan-Murray budget deal. Clearly, John Boehner aspires to Doleism, as the soon-to-be-cited Time magazine story on Boehner and education illustrates vividly.
To be specific, let’s look at this particular comparison between what so infuriated Jack Kemp in 1982 — and what Boehner (and Ryan!) are trying to sell to Republicans today.
Notice this line in Kemp’s protest:
The 1982 tax bill wouldn’t affect you as long as “you…don’t ride in airplanes.”
What Kemp was talking about was a fee — an excise tax on air travel. It was, as noted, passed over his vigorous objection.
And what is in the Ryan-Murray budget deal? That’s right, another tax on air travelers. Specifically, according to the documentation of the Heritage Foundation:
Under Title VI section 601, the proposal calls for an increase in aviation passenger security fees. This fee increase would take the current amount from $2.50 per passenger to $5.60.
Unlike the original fee, this increase is not being used to fund or improve security. Instead, the revenue collected is being proposed to replace automatic spending cuts set to begin in January. The revenue, however, will not be directly distributed to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA); instead it will be deposited annually into a general fund of the Treasury.”
Got that? This “fee” is in fact “not being used to fund or improve security.” The “revenue collected” under Title VI section 601 is to be used “to replace automatic spending cuts.” Notice this line? The new TSA tax will not go to the TSA. No, “instead it will be deposited annually into a general fund of the Treasury.”
Which is another way of saying that not only is a new tax being placed on air travelers, just as Jack Kemp protested way back there in 1982, the money is not even going to the TSA, in whose name it is being levied. No, the collected taxes from that more-than-doubled tax on airline passengers is being sent off to “a general fund of the Treasury.”
And why, pray tell, would the “fee” — tax — go to a “general fund of the Treasury”? For one reason and one reason only, and it isn’t paying for anything connected with the specific purpose of the TSA. Rob Bluey of Heritage writes this:
“If a higher fee does not directly cover the cost of a government service and instead goes to pay for more spending, then it is akin to a tax increase,” said Curtis Dubay, Heritage’s senior tax policy analyst. “The budget deal uses the higher fees to cover the cost of more spending; hence it is essentially a tax hike.”
The point here, of course, is that this is exactly the game Jack Kemp was so adamant about opposing in 1982. Years later, a rueful Reagan would write in his memoirs:
….I made a deal with the congressional Democrats in 1982, agreeing to support a limited loophole-closing tax increase to raise more than $98.3 billion over three years in return for their agreement to cut spending by $280 billion during the same period; later the Democrats reneged on their pledge and we never got those cuts.
In short? Ronald Reagan made a mistake — and he eventually regretted it and said so. Jack Kemp was right.
All of which raises the obvious point: why in the world would Speaker Boehner (not to mention Paul Ryan of all people — he the man who considers Jack Kemp to be his mentor) get within miles of something like this?
The answer is part and parcel of the very real divide within the Republican Party. A divide that has been present since the advent of the New Deal.
The simplest answer is that when Ronald Reagan said in his inaugural address that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem” — the hard fact is that some of the most vigorous opponents to Reagan’s belief were other Republicans.
Today, that fact of the GOP has come to be symbolized by House Speaker John Boehner. Ryan’s dismissal of Boehner’s recent vituperative attacks on conservative groups protesting the budget deal as just a case of the Speaker getting his “Irish” up cannot hide the fact that Boehner has become the face of anti-conservatism within the GOP Establishment.
Reports the New York Times of Boehner’s harsh words for conservative groups immutably identified with conservatism:
“They are not fighting for conservative principles,” Mr. Boehner told rank-and-file House Republicans during a private meeting on Wednesday as he seethed and questioned the motives of the groups for piling on against the plan before it was even made public.
“They are not fighting for conservative policy,” he continued, according to accounts of those present. “They are fighting to expand their lists, raise more money and grow their organizations, and they are using you to do it. It’s ridiculous.”
In his recent attack on those conservative groups (Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, Freedom Works etc) the Speaker said: “I am conservative as anyone around this place.”
Here’s Time magazine on John Boehner shortly after the 2010 elections when it was clear Boehner would be the new Speaker of the House:
Boehner cares deeply about education — and not just when he’s stumping on campaign trails. He was one of the “big four” — along with Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, Republican Senator Judd Gregg and Democratic Representative George Miller — who helped craft the bipartisan No Child Left Behind legislation that was signed into law in 2002.
As a result of his policy initiatives, Boehner is well regarded by many in the education community. Though he started his career as a bomb thrower, he evolved into someone even Democrats describe as a sincere legislator interested in practical solutions to education problems. He’s “very adult, in the sense that he’s a tough negotiator, but he realized always where he needed to find middle ground and was willing to reach that middle ground after making his case,” observes Charles Barone, a former top education aide to Miller, the current chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.”
Where in all of this was Boehner asking about the role of the Constitution? Where was the conservative opposition from Boehner to increasing both the role of the federal government in education — not to mention the addition of billions in costs to the federal government and, yes, the deficit? (And note that Boehner is saluted by Time in precisely the way Bob Dole was saluted for his air travel excise fee. Bob Dole, in the phrase Tom Bethell of The American Spectator loved to point out, was said by the liberals of 1982 to have “grown in office.” Boehner, said Time had “evolved.”)
Recall that Ronald Reagan wanted to abolish the Department of Education — period. Boehner went in the other direction — the liberal direction. He didn’t want to abolish the Department of Education, he wanted to enlarge it both its budget and its programs. And now he says he’s as “conservative as anyone around this place”???? And has the chutzpa to say conservative groups “are not fighting for conservative principles.” Saying what they are really all about is their fundraising lists?
How about the idea that John Boehner is about nothing but his own greed for power? Is that what’s really afoot when one reads here in Bloomberg from August of this year that “Boehner plans to attend fundraisers in 15 states during the break” and that “this year, he has attended more than 100 events for incumbents and candidates, raising more than $30 million for his own committees and the National Republican Congressional Committee.” In other words, as noted in that Times story by a spokesman for the Boehner-targeted Heritage Action, “Only in Washington could you have guys who go to fund-raisers at swanky restaurants accuse outside groups of doing something for fundraising. It is one of those petty attacks that is intended to shift the conversation away from policy.”
And, we might add here, sell conservatism down the river to advance his own power? How about that?
Sorry. My Irish is up.
All of this is to say that the new “Air Boehner” airline travel tax is in microcosm precisely the problem with the GOP Establishment. The tax is in fact a tool of what Mark Levin quite accurately labels “Statists.” And to the extent Republicans have signed on to this deal, they display a taste for statism that precisely identifies them as what Levin calls “Neo-Statists.”
We are where we are because there are too many Republicans who think like John Boehner. Boehner and company are not unlike the old bit about the child who kills his parents and then begs for mercy because he’s an orphan. The GOP is in the hopeless spot it proclaims to be in Congress and the White House precisely because it doesn’t follow-through on its promises to cut spending and limit government when they do have power.
In the fight…make that war…to bring America into the future of limited — and effective — Constitutional government, Boehner hasn’t simply abandoned ship, he has switched sides. And he isn’t alone. He stands today where once stood old Reagan antagonists like Gerald Ford, Ford insisting that Reagan was too “extreme” to ever be elected president.
This is Boehner’s complaint of those conservative groups, and is the Inside the GOP Establishment opinion of Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and others in the Senate, as in the House with Members like Texan Louie Gohmert and others.
The Air Boehner Tax, as with his support of No Child Left Behind, is a move towards bigger government and a bigger debt.
And with his declaration of war against the Reaganite base of the GOP, it is even more evidence if any were needed that the newest tax collector for the welfare state — the speakership of John Boehner — can no longer fly.