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Commentary > HaysWire
Reaganomics lives on
President Bush carries on the tradition of big tax cuts.
June 7, 2004: 6:35 PM EDT
By Kathleen Hays, CNNfn

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Whether you adored or abhorred Ronald Reagan's presidency, there's no doubt that his economic philosophy lives on today in the policies of President Bush.

I was at the White House a couple of weeks ago, and asked Bush what he believes to be the most important economic accomplishment of his presidency. "The tax cuts," he said without hesitation.

Bush supporters -- and many economists -- say the cuts ended the recession and put the economy back on track to create new jobs. Critics complain about the big budget deficit. Who will pay for it and how?

Tax cuts were certainly the centerpiece of "Reaganomics." One of the lions of the supply side economics movement, Jude Wanniski, says focusing on the power of tax cuts was the key to Reagan getting elected in 1980, and ultimately the key to his greatness.

Wanniski points out that Barry Goldwater actually opposed John F. Kennedy's tax cuts. In ranking tax reduction as more important than deficit reduction, Reagan was going against many of the stalwarts of his party.

Likewise, George Bush championed tax cuts when budget hawks among the Republicans said the nation couldn't afford them. In fact, one reason Bush fired his Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, may have been that the former Alcoa CEO publicly questioned the tax cuts.

A big budget deficit didn't bother Ronald Reagan at all, and it doesn't seem to bother George W. Bush, either. As Reagan did, Bush believes that economic growth will bring the budget deficit back to earth, and maybe it will.

Reagan still resonant

Budget expert Stan Collender says that even today, the debate over the federal budget -- its size, and the proper parameters of government spending -- remains an outgrowth of the Reagan years.

In an article for the National Journal, Collender notes that Reagan's $100 billion and $200 billion deficits acclimated politicians and the public to a previously unimaginable perspective on what "big" means.

"The numbers themselves are far less important than how much they changed the politics of the budget debate," Collender writes. "In a classic only-Nixon-can-go-to-China situation, Reagan made deficits acceptable."

As for the man at the top today, Wanniski observes that "President Bush is a committed supply-sider." He argues that Democrats need to hop on board, too.

"The Democratic Party will, one of these days, stop resisting the philosophy that President Kennedy briefly revived for his party," Wanniski argues. "It will have to, if it ever again aspires to be the majority party."

I can just hear the Democrats out there saying, "Not so fast, Mr. Supplysider! We can agree with tax cuts, but not Mr. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, and especially not the dividend tax cuts that poured millions back into the pockets of billionaires."

After all, the budgetary account didn't come back to surplus until a tax-raising Democrat was in the White House. And if the Democrats have their way, the tax cuts for the wealthiest will disappear to the dustbin of "voodoo" economics.

Ronald Wilson Reagan
George W. Bush
Layoffs and Downsizing

Even here, though, Reagan is getting the last laugh.

As many pundits have pointed out, it was the ascendancy of the Republicans and their government-bashing, tax-cutting polices that forced some Democrats from the left to the center. That's what laid the groundwork for Bill Clinton's election and his deficit-cutting policies.

Love him or lambaste him, revere his policies or revile them, you can't deny it: Ronald Reagan is with us still.  Top of page

Kathleen Hays anchors CNN Money Morning and The FlipSide, airing Monday to Friday on CNNfn. As part of CNN's Business News team, she also contributes to Lou Dobbs Tonight.

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