(FILE) Republican Representative from Louisiana Steve Scalise holds a copy of the Affordable Care Act, also known as 'Obamacare', during a news conference held by House Republican leadership, March 8, 2017. 
Michael Reynolds/EPA

On taxes, GOP leader has some bad advice: ‘Just look at history’

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) is back on Capitol Hill, and he’s doing his part to ensure his party’s tax plan clears the chamber this afternoon. As ThinkProgress noted, the Louisiana Republican’s pitch includes a straightforward suggestion: “Just look at history.”

“If you go back to when John F. Kennedy Jr. cut taxes, if you go back to the last time we transformed our tax code – 1986 when Ronald Reagan was president – you can go to the Clinton years,” Scalise said. “Every time we’ve cut taxes you’ve seen the economy take off.”

Later, Scalise added: “So if you look at history, every time this has been done it’s worked. Why not do it again, especially when you’ve got a slow economy?”

Wouldn’t it be great if this were true? Wouldn’t it be amazing if policymakers knew with certainty, whenever economic growth disappointed, that they could simply cut taxes and turn things around?

Alas, reality is stubborn. Indeed, if we take Scalise’s advice and “look at history,” it points in a direction he and his caucus probably won’t like.

The last time Congress approved a massive overhaul of the federal tax system, for example, the economy didn’t soar at all. This isn’t a matter of opinion; the quantifiable evidence for what happened after the 1986 tax reform package become law is readily available. (Similarly, Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts didn’t boost the economy, either.)

It’s also fascinating to see a member of the House GOP leadership celebrate “the Clinton years” – since it was Clinton who raised taxes in 1993, to the consternation of Republicans who insisted the policy would cause a recession. Instead, “the Clinton years” offered one of the most robust economic boom periods on record.

And as long as we’re taking a stroll down memory lane, there’s one name that seems to be getting too little attention in this debate: George W. Bush.

It was, after all, the most recent Republican president who slashed taxes, disproportionately benefiting the wealthy, in ways the country couldn’t afford. Bush and congressional Republicans were nevertheless certain that their tax breaks would send the economy soaring, making promises that sound eerily similar to the rhetoric we’re hearing from GOP officials now.

But as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently explained, “Despite promises from proponents of the tax cuts, evidence suggests that they did not improve economic growth or pay for themselves, but instead ballooned deficits and debt and contributed to a rise in income inequality.”

And, of course, Bush left office with an economy in shambles. Conditions improved dramatically under Barack Obama’s presidency – which included tax increases.

“Just look at history”? OK, Steve Scalise, if you insist.