Bruce Bartlett: When Tax Cuts Were a Tough Sell – NYTimes.com
When Tax Cuts Were a Tough Sell
By BRUCE BARTLETT
Bruce Bartlett held senior policy roles in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and served on the staffs of Representatives Jack Kemp and Ron Paul. He is the author of “The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform – Why We Need It and What It Will Take.”
Fifty years ago this week, on Jan. 24, 1963, John F. Kennedy sent a special message to Congress on tax reduction and tax reform. Enacted the following year by Lyndon B. Johnson, the legislation cut the top federal income tax rate to 70 percent from 91 percent and the bottom rate to 14 percent from 20 percent. Ironically, it later became the template for Republican tax policy.
Perspectives from expert contributors.
Those who don’t know the history probably assume that the tax cut was a slam-dunk for Kennedy, something that was overwhelmingly popular. In fact, a big tax cut was highly controversial because at that time Republicans actually cared about the deficit and recognized that tax cuts would increase it. This view was shared by the large bloc of conservative Southern Democrats then in Congress and the general public as well.
For example, on Dec. 14, 1960, before Kennedy was inaugurated, Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr., Democrat of Virginia and chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, warned Kennedy against even thinking about a big tax cut, given the deficit situation. According to an Associated Press report published in The New York Times, Senator Byrd told Kennedy that a tax cut “would be the worst thing we could do.”
A July 1962 Gallup poll asked the American people, “Would you favor or oppose a cut in federal income taxes at this time, if a cut meant that the government would go further in debt?” Only 19 percent of people supported a tax cut, even though the high World War II-era tax rates were still in place; 72 percent were opposed.
Even among those who said that their taxes were too high, only 31 percent supported a tax cut if it would add to the deficit; 61 percent were opposed.