How L.B.J. Pushed Through Kennedy’s Tax Cut

tags: LBJ, JFK, taxes



Bruce Bartlett held senior policy roles in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and served on the staffs of Representatives Jack Kemp and Ron Paul. He is the author of The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform — Why We Need It and What It Will Take.

In posts on Jan. 22, 2013, and Sept. 24, 2013, I discussed how President John F. Kennedy came to support a big tax cut and his struggle to get it passed in the House of Representatives against strong conservative resistance, because of concerns about the deficit. After his assassination, it was left to Lyndon B. Johnson to achieve final action on the tax cut, which was accomplished 50 years ago this week when the Senate voted in favor of it on Feb. 7, 1964.

Since the beginning of the tax cut debate, the White House knew the Senate was going to be a much tougher sell than the House of Representatives. The Senate Finance Committee, in particular, was a serious problem, because the Democratic side was heavily stacked with conservative Southern Democrats. They opposed budget deficits regardless of whether they arose from tax cuts or spending increases. And the committee chairman, Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. of Virginia, strongly opposed the tax cut.

Typical among the Southern Democrats on the Finance Committee was the view of Senator Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee: “It is not sound policy to borrow money to cut taxes.” Moreover, tax cuts would impair the government’s ability to spend on pressing national priorities, he said.

This latter view is one that is commonly called “starve the beast” and was one of the arguments Ronald Reagan made in favor of his tax cut in 1981. That is, a beneficial effect of the tax cut was that it would force Congress to cut spending to reduce the deficit....



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