Reagan Placed a Higher Tax Burden on Americans Than Obama

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein recently refuted the Republican/Tea Party touchstone that Obama has placed a higher tax burden on Americans than other presidents. Klein shows you have only to look to Ronald Reagan for evidence.

Today’s problems, Klein says, are radically different from Reagan’s era, and they began under Clinton, who allowed the crumbling of the wall between insured and uninsured investing and the deregulation of the mortgage industry, and were exacerbated under Bush II, who continued deregulation and used deficit spending to finance tax cuts for the rich and the war he declared in Iraq.

Contrary to popular belief, taxes are lower under Obama than they were under Reagan. In 1983, when Reagan was trying to get the economy out of recession, revenues were 17.5 percent of GDP. In 2010, when Obama was trying to guide the economy into a recovery, revenues were 14.9 percent of GDP.

Taxes are so low under Obama in large part because of the Bush tax cuts and the effects of the financial crisis. But they’re also low because of the tax cuts passed by Obama in the stimulus bill.

Klein adds that the long-term outlook under the Obama plan is good.

In 1988, when Reagan left office, revenues were 18.2 percent of GDP. Under the Congressional Budget Office’s alternative-fiscal scenario — which is their most realistic projection — revenues only rise to 18.4 percent of GDP by 2021. If Obama manages to pass his most consistent tax-policy demand and sunset the Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000, that would rise by less than half a percentage point. In other words, taxes were never as low under Reagan as they are under Obama, and Obama’s policies would not lead to a significantly different tax burden than Reagan’s policies did.

Finally, Klein notes that Obama isn’t done yet so while we can definitively rate Reagan’s initiatives, Obama’s are a work in progress.

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