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When Republicans Were Fiscally Conservative

Bruce Bartlett recalls the 1990 Budget deal, simultaneously the biggest triumph of conservative governance in twenty years and utterly anathema on the right:

Budget negotiations finally concluded in late September. The final deal cut spending by $324 billion over five years and raised revenues by $159 billion. The most politically toxic part of the deal, as far as congressional Republicans were concerned, involved an increase in the top statutory income tax rate to 31 percent from 28 percent, which had been established by the Tax Reform Act of 1986. The top rate had been 50 percent from 1981 to 1986 and 70 percent from 1965 to 1980.
More importantly, the deal contained powerful mechanisms for controlling future deficits. In particular, a strong pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rule required that new spending or tax cuts had to be offset by spending cuts or tax increases. There were also caps on discretionary spending that were to be enforced by automatic spending cuts. ...
Budget experts now agree that the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990, which was strengthened in 1993 by another budget deal that was opposed by all Republicans, deserves much of the credit for the subsequent improvement in the deficit, which shrank from 4.7 percent of GDP in 1992 to virtual balance in 1997 and gave us budget surpluses from 1998 to 2001. Economist Robert Reischauer, director of the Congressional Budget Office when the 1990 budget deal was enacted, told me it was “the foundation upon which the surpluses of the 1998 to 2001 period were built.”

Conservative dogma continues to regard any such bargain as anathema. Tax increases only encourage more spending, and spending cuts disappear, goes the right-wing line. It's utterly false, but that's what conservatives insist is the case.