Political Hay

The Air Boehner Tax

A new tax collector for the welfare state.

By 12.17.13

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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?

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.