The White House Historical Association is promoting a Christmas ornament honoring our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge. This summer, Coolidge was added to the “racing presidents” feature at Washington Nationals home games, in which mascots representing past presidents sprint down the sideline. The club even gave away a Coolidge bobblehead doll.
Does this mean the long-neglected Coolidge is making a comeback? I hope so, because his thoughts and policies, especially when it comes to taxes and spending, are needed today.
Three credible Republican presidential candidates have released plans for lowering taxes on some, raising taxes on others and in some cases, revising the indecipherable and special interest-laden tax code.
Donald Trump is the latest to release a plan. Under his plan, those who make less than $25,000 ($50,000 for married couples) would pay no income tax at all, while wealthy Americans making $150,001 and more and couples making $300,001 and more would also get a tax break, paying an income tax rate of 25 percent, 15 percent lower than the current top rate. Trump would also provide government health care for all, telling a skeptical Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes” that a growing economy would pay for it.
While the tax plans of Trump, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush include elements worth considering, these and other Republicans are starting at the wrong end. What they need to be focusing on is spending.
Here, Coolidge can be helpful. He proposed, “Securing greater efficiency in government by the application of the principles of constructive economy, in order that there may be a reduction of the burden of taxation now borne by the American people. The object sought is not merely a cutting down of public expenditures. That is only the means. Tax reduction is the end.”
Did you get the order? Reducing unnecessary and wasteful spending lessens the need for higher taxes and creates a healthy economic and political atmosphere in which they can be lowered.
Coolidge believed taxes that are too high restrict the freedom of the people. He even saw taxes as a moral issue (take note social conservatives): “We are seeking to let those who earn money keep more of it for themselves and give less of it to the Government. This means better business, more of the comforts of life, general economic improvement, larger opportunity for education, and a greater freedom for all the people. It is in essence restoring our country to the people of our country. It re-endows them not only with increased material but with increased spiritual values.”
As John Hendrickson has written for Coolidgefoundation.org (Disclosure: I am an unpaid adviser to the foundation): “Coolidge was fighting a two front-war against special interest spending and by policy encroachments that were not within the enumerated powers of the federal government granted in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. As Coolidge argued: ‘Unfortunately the Federal Government has strayed far afield from its legitimate business. It has trespassed upon fields where there should be no trespass. If we could confine our Federal expenditures to the legitimate obligations and functions of the Federal Government a material reduction would be apparent. But far more important than this would be its effect upon the fabric of our constitutional form of government, which tends to be weakened and undermined by this encroachment.’”
These compelling arguments remain with us nearly 90 years after Coolidge left office, but his wisdom and that of the Constitution remain for those Republicans who would embrace them. Start with spending reductions and lower taxes will follow. It has worked before. It can again.
One more Coolidge quote on taxes that might be of use to the Republican presidential candidates. From his Inaugural Address, March 4, 1925: “The wise and correct course to follow in taxation is not to destroy those who have already secured success, but to create conditions under which everyone will have a better chance to be successful.”
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