Bob Dole in 1982: “We’re just trying to avoid going over the cliff”: Reagan, Kemp, and “tax the rich.”
“I didn’t come to Washington to raise
— Congressman Jack Kemp to President Ronald Reagan
Jack Kemp was furious.
Summoned to the White House in 1982 for a one-on-one with President Ronald Reagan — Reagan not only his longtime ideological and political ally but his old boss (as an off-season football quarterback for the Buffalo Bills Kemp had served an internship as a special assistant to the fledgling California Governor Reagan in 1967), now-Congressman Kemp was adamant.
Reagan was being told by all manner of GOP Establishment leadership types like Kansas Senator Bob Dole, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, that taxes had to be raised as Democrats insisted. The Reagan economic policy was a failure, Reagan was being told. And the Democrats had a deal — a spending reduction of $3 for every $1 in tax cuts. After trying mightily to get Reagan to give up on the third-year of his tax cuts — which Reagan flatly refused — Dole made his pitch for an increase in business and excise taxes. Based on the idea of those corresponding budget cuts, Reagan reluctantly went along.
“My heart isn’t in it,” he wrote in his diary. It wasn’t — and it decidedly wasn’t in Kemp’s either.
Reagan was frustrated, Kemp incensed. Neither man saw increasing taxes as anything more than the umpteenth excuse to grow government as opposed to the economy.
Be that as it were, the Reagan White House was sent out there full bore to raise business and excise taxes. The House Republican leadership, including a GOP Congressman from Wyoming named Dick Cheney, pressed the case that working with House Speaker Tip O’Neill and his majority was the way to solve the problem.
So too was Reagan’s Budget Director David Stockman — a close Kemp ally when Stockman served in the House as a young Michigan congressman — pressing the case. Stockman had been an early behind-the-scenes deserter on the President’s tax cuts, coming close to getting fired when it was revealed he had been covertly making all manner of wild accusations about the economics of tax cutting.
Yet Jack Kemp was refusing to go along. He simply didn’t buy the pitch. If taxes rose, he was convinced — and this was in the aftermath of the first round of Reagan tax-rate and budget cuts a year earlier in 1981 — not only would ground be lost in the fight for economic growth. More to the point the budget cuts would never occur — and Democrats would soon be back demanding even more spending.
So, fresh from his tense meeting with Reagan, Kemp returned to Capitol Hill and rounded up some 61 House Republicans to say what he was saying quite publicly:
I did not come to Washington to raise taxes.
In a speech on the House floor Kemp took direct aim at the story Dole and other Republicans, not to mention O’Neill and his Democrats, were spreading: that the business and excise tax increases were really not such a big deal. To which Kemp replied by running down an itemized list of the proposed tax increases, mocking the promise that the tax increases wouldn’t really affect middle-class Americans. This was correct, said Kemp sarcastically, if
…you don’t use the telephone, don’t pay medical insurance 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.
Sending his formal letter of protest to the President that was signed by those 61 House Republicans, Kemp pointedly added:
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.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?