President Obama is trying to re-write history when he says that his tax program is the same as Bill Clinton supported “when 23 million jobs were created.”
It’s not that way at all. Clinton’s 1993 increase of personal income taxes on the top bracket to 39.6% had a very negative effect on the economy. It was only after Clinton’s 1997 cut the capital gains tax – the opposite of what Obama proposes – that job growth really piled up.
When Clinton took office he did all the wrong things. He raised taxes sharply, hiking the top bracket from 35% to 39.6% and raised taxes on gasoline. The result was that the economy, which had been recovering, staggered. GDP growth dropped to 0.7% in Clinton’s first quarter (down from 4.3% in Bush’s last quarter) and stayed around 2% for the rest of 1993. Personal income rose 6.3% in 1992 under Bush but slowed to 4.1% under Clinton in 1993.
The tax increases Clinton passed failed to generate the revenue he had expected. The tax paradox set in. Martin Feldstein, former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, summed it up in his Wall Street Journal article, “What the ’93 Tax Increase Really Did,” published on October 26, 1995. He said taxpayers reduced their incomes when they saw the tax hikes coming. Feldstein writes that “the Treasury lost two-thirds of the extra revenue that would have been collected if taxpayers had not changed their behavior.” Because of Clinton’s tax hikes, real personal income fell by $25 billion. High income taxpayers, facing the prospect of a tax increase reported 8.5% less taxable income in 1993 than they would have if their tax rates had not changed. The tax paradox!
Then Clinton got wiped out in the Congressional elections of 1994, losing control of the Senate and the House – the first time the Republicans had run the House in forty years!
Clinton suddenly saw the error of his ways and began to hold down spending and push for a tax cut. In 1997, he and the Republican Congress combined to cut capital gains taxes from 28% (the rate to which Bush had increased it) to 20%. The result was electrifying! Real wage growth was 6.5% in the four years after the tax cut compared to minuscule wage growth of 0.8% over the four years after Clinton’s tax increase!
And the tax paradox was again evident: lower rates produced higher revenues! In 1996, the year before the capital gains cut, the tax collected revenues of only $66 billion. In the four years after the cut, they averaged $100 billion a year. But, what was more important was the surge in economic activity that the capital gains tax cut generated. In 1996, before the tax cut, there were $261 billion in capital gains in America. In the three years after the cut, capital gains rose to an average of $440 billion. The increased tax collections and the greater economic activity were such that they pushed the budget into a surplus for the first time since the 1950s.
These facts may be “inconvenient truths” for Obama to face but they are the facts!
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