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Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before

September 20, 2011

The Republican response to the President's proposal was fast, furious - and predictable. The modest increases in tax rates for upper-income Americans, the GOP's best and brightest announced, was "class warfare" and a "job-killing tax hike" which "will not give you deficit reduction."
As it turns out, the year was 1993, not 2011. At issue was President Bill Clinton's $496 billion program to boost the recovery and trim long-term debt. And what Republicans then predicted would be a disaster preceded the longest economic expansion in modern American history, a period which produced 23 million new jobs and a balanced budget.
Nevertheless, Republicans have looked into their broken crystal ball to demagogue Barack Obama's "jobs now, debt reduction later" proposal unveiled Monday. While GOP Budget Chairman Paul Ryan protested that "Class warfare may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics," House Speaker John Boehner sneered, "I don't think I would describe class warfare as leadership." On the campaign trail, the 2012 Republican White House hopefuls accused Obama of "class-baiting rhetoric" (Paul), "class warfare" (Cain) and "warfare on the millions of small businesses, on charities and on middle class America with increased tax burdens" (Bachmann). Mitt Romney, who proclaimed that "higher taxes mean fewer jobs -- it's that simple," regurgitated the standard right-wing talking point when predicted the Obama plan "will have a crushing impact on economic growth."
Stop me if you think you've heard this one before.
After all, as ThinkProgress, Salon, Congress Matters and Andrew Tobias all documented, pretty much the same people said pretty much the same thing 18 years ago.
If Barack Obama's experience with record-setting Republican obstructionism has been painful, Bill Clinton's was unprecedented. When Clinton's 1993 economic program scraped by without capturing the support of even one GOP lawmaker, the New York Times remarked at the time:

Historians believe that no other important legislation, at least since World War II, has been enacted without at least one vote in either house from each major party.

Inheriting massive budget deficits and stubborn unemployment from Bush the Elder, Clinton's $496 billion program was nonetheless opposed by every single member of the GOP, as well as defectors from his own party. As the Times recounted, it took a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Al Gore to earn victory:

An identical version of the $496 billion deficit-cutting measure was approved Thursday night by the House, 218 to 216. The Senate was divided 50 to 50 before Mr. Gore voted. Since tie votes in the House mean defeat, the bill would have failed if even one representative or one senator who voted with the President had switched sides.

Throughout 1993, President Clinton faced venomous - if completely baseless - charges from his Republican opponents. Newt Gingrich announced that February, "I believe that that will in fact kill the current recovery and put us back in a recession," while also warning the day before the budget vote, "This is the Democrat machine's recession, and each one of them will be held personally accountable." Bob Dole, Clinton's future reelection opponent, complained, "People out there in the real world just don't understand how record-setting tax increases and a taxpayer-financed spending spree by Congress will solve the deficit or put Americans back to work." While John Kasich (R-OH) told Clinton and the Democrats, "your economic program is a job killer," future Tea Party sugar daddy Dick Armey read his tea leaves:

"Clearly this is a job killer in the short run. The revenues forecast for this budget will not materialize; the costs of this budget will be greater than what is forecast. The deficit will be worse, and it is not a good omen for the American economy."

In August 1993, Republicans deployed their biggest gun - Ronald Reagan - to direct fire at President Clinton. The Gipper, the same man who tripled the U.S. national debt in eight years, blasted away from the op-ed pages of the New York Times:

"The President's 'wonder plan' could be cited for deceptive advertising by the Food and Drug Administration. Job-killing taxes come right away, and hazy spending cuts are on the distant horizon. The five-year plan will likely impede economic growth and not come near its claim of $500 billion in deficit reduction."

Most dramatic of all was Texas Senator Phil Gramm. The same man who led the 1990's crusade to gut regulation of Wall Street and the IRS and later called America a "nation of whiners," boldly - and wrongly - predicted:

"I believe hundreds of thousands of people are going to lose their jobs...I believe Bill Clinton will be one of those people."

The Republican naysayers were, of course, utterly wrong on every count. Bill Clinton kept his job and presided over a rapidly growing economy, expanding incomes, new stock market highs and a balanced budget. Clinton, who authored one of the best eight-year economic performances of the modern presidents, bequeathed a CBO-estimated $5.6 trillion surplus to his successor, the man with the worst economic record. Alas, with his tax cut windfall for the wealthy, George W. Bush squandered the Clinton surpluses. For the record high income inequality and historically low tax burden they helped produce, Bush and Congressional Republicans yielded only a million new jobs - and red ink as far as the eye could see.
Of course, 2011 is not 1993. The current economic crisis is far deeper and the recovery much slower. Yet Republican critics of President Obama's proposals to boost taxes on America's rich and famous are nonetheless recycling the comically wrong talking points from their failed 1993 effort to stonewall Bill Clinton. All of the GOP's greatest hits- each demonstrably - are once again drowning the airwaves. From "job killing tax hikes" and "hurting small business" to "punishing job creators" and "class warfare," the Republicans' tried and untrue talking points are back.
That real class warrior Karl Marx famously said that "history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." Sometimes, as with Republican charges that limiting the GOP's on-going tax cut windfall for the wealthy constitutes class warfare, the farce is double.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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