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August 20 2015

Some Perspective on Today’s Political Debates

Rachel DiCarlo Currie

There’s a game that both Democrats and Republicans like to play: You take an issue — say, health care, taxes, or environmental regulation — and then cite past statements, positions, or votes by members of the opposing party as evidence of how much the party has shifted over time. The liberal version might go like this: “Republicans once supported a government mandate to purchase health insurance; they supported tax increases to plug budget gaps and/or to shore up Social Security; and they supported a cap-and-trade system to regulate emissions. And yet, Republicans today oppose all of those things.”

Conservatives can play this game, too. Economist Scott Sumner offers some examples:

In 1986 Ted Kennedy voted to cut the top income tax rate to 28%. In 1987 the NYT advocated eliminating the minimum wage. In the 1990s Paul Krugman spoke up for sweatshops. By 1999 he was ridiculing the idea that Japan should rely on fiscal stimulus, when monetary stimulus was the obvious choice. In the 1990s lots of liberals favored ideas such as a progressive consumption tax, and health savings accounts. They favored free trade agreements. I miss the 20th century.

For those interested, here are two links showing how individual senators voted on the 1986 Tax Reform Act. You’ll notice that nearly every Senate Democrat supported the initial bill, and more than two-thirds of them supported final passage of the conference report. Those voting in favor of a top income-tax rate of 28 percent included, not just Ted Kennedy, but also Joe Biden, John Kerry, Pat Leahy, and other liberals.

Meanwhile, here’s a link to the 1987 New York Times editorial calling for a minimum wage of “$0.00.” (I mentioned this editorial in my April 2014 IWF Policy Focus on the minimum-wage/EITC debate.)

Here’s a link to a 1997 column in which Paul Krugman explained the relative benefits of Third World “sweatshops.”

Here’s Krugman, in 1999, pouring cold water on the idea that “temporary fiscal stimulus” would generate a sustained economic recovery in Japan.

Here’s “A Brief History of Health Savings Accounts,” courtesy of the National Center for Policy Analysis. NCPA scholar Devon Herrick notes that, in 1992, a host of Democrats, including Tom Daschle, co-sponsored legislation to create medical savings accounts, which essentially were the forerunner of HSAs.

I would also point out that, as recently as the late 1990s, there were prominent Democrats who wanted to establish private retirement accounts in Social Security.

Finally, here’s what one Democrat said in 1993 about illegal immigration:

Our borders have overflowed with illegal immigrants placing tremendous burdens on our criminal justice system, schools and social programs. The Immigration and Naturalization Service needs the ability to step up enforcement.

Our federal wallet is stretched to the limit by illegal aliens getting welfare, food stamps, medical care and other benefits often without paying any taxes.

Safeguards like welfare and free medical care are in place to boost Americans in need of short-term assistance. These programs were not meant to entice freeloaders and scam artists from around the world.

Even worse, Americans have seen heinous crimes committed by individuals who are here illegally.

That Democrat was Harry Reid. At the time, Reid had introduced a bill to clamp down on illegal immigration, slash legal-immigration levels, and abolish automatic birthright citizenship. Sound familiar?

Again, you can play this game both ways, but it does offer some interesting perspective on today’s debates.


Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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