Cutting the Federal Budget: Where is Calvin Coolidge When We Need Him?

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by David L. Goetsch

When conservatives discuss the debacle of mounting federal debt or the tax and spend policies of the Obama administration, without fail someone will bring up the good old days of fiscal conservatism under Ronald Reagan. I squirm in my seat every time I hear about those supposed good old days because in reality, they weren’t that good. Let me state at the outset that Ronald Reagan has no bigger fan than me. For eight wonderful years he returned America to glory and gave us back our pride after Jimmy Carter had turned our country into an economic mess at home and a joke abroad. But the hard truth, my fellow conservatives, is that Ronald Reagan did not cut federal spending. He increased it.

In fairness to the Gipper, he did cut taxes which in turn increased federal revenue. But he was unable to make a dent in spending because the Democrats refused to budge on that side of the ledger. The deal Reagan made with Tip O’Neill and company was that he would go along with their spending if they would go along with his tax cuts. As things were at that time in Washington, D.C., this was the best Reagan could do. I cannot say this about the Reagan administration though without adding an important reminder: he did prove that the government can increase revenue by cutting taxes. That alone would have made his presidency significant, even if he had not achieved all of the other things he is known and loved for.

In these times of spiraling federal debt and living on borrowed money, perhaps a better role model for conservative presidential wannabes would be Calvin Coolidge. Here is what Amity Shlaes had to say about Coolidge’s fiscal credentials in the February 2013 edition of Imprimis: “An alternative model for conservatives is Calvin Coolidge. President from 1923 to 1929, Coolidge sustained a budget surplus and left office with a smaller budget than the one he inherited. Over the same period, America experienced a proliferation of jobs, a dramatic increase in the standard of living, higher wages, and three to four percent annual growth. And the key to this was Coolidge’s penchant for saying “no.”

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