When President Obama released his plan for “the Buffett rule,” which involves closing tax loopholes and ensuring that millionaires pay their fair share in taxes, he explained that “middle-class families shouldn’t be paying higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires.” “Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett,” he said.
Ever since, many Republicans have been attacking Obama for inciting “class warfare.” “It looks like the President wants to move down the class warfare path,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). “I don’t think I would describe class warfare as leadership,” agreed Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).
However, if calling for an end to millionaires having lower tax rates than their secretaries is class warfare, Obama is only the latest class warrior to occupy the Oval Office. In a June 6, 1985 speech at Northside High School in Atlanta, Georgia, then President Ronald Reagan explained that tax loopholes allowing a millionaire to pay lower taxes that a bus driver were “crazy,” because they allowed the “truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share”:
We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share. In theory, some of those loopholes were understandable, but in practice they sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying ten percent of his salary, and that’s crazy. [...] Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver or less?
Watch Obama and Reagan’s remarks, side by side:
When Reagan asked the crowd whether millionaires should be paying more or less in taxes than a bus driver, the crowd resoundingly responded “more!” Reagan also told an Illinois crowd about a letter he had received from a man who said that tax loopholes allowed him to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. “He wrote me the letter to tell me he’d like to come to Washington and testify before Congress as to how that’s possible for him to do and why it is wrong,” Reagan said.
A recent Daily Kos/SEIU “State of the Nation” poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found that 73 percent of Americans, including 66 percent of Republicans, favor the Buffett rule. Remember, it was Reagan who completely equalized the tax treatment of investment income and wage income, which is currently one of the key tax disparities that allows the wealthy to dramatically lower their tax rates.
As the Center for American Progress’ Seth Hanlon and Michael Linden put it, “in calling for the ‘Buffett Rule,’ Obama is merely calling for a return to basic fairness. He is echoing the very same call that Ronald Reagan made 25 years ago. Given the history, maybe we should be calling it the ‘Reagan Rule.’”