Bill Clinton on Tax Reform

President of the U.S., 1993-2001; Former Democratic Governor (AR)


Restrain spending AND raise taxes to reduce debt

The debt is projected to grow to 100% of the GDP by 2021 and almost 200% by 2035. [The choices we face are]: restrain spending below current projections, raise taxes, and grow the economy faster. We have to do all three.

We have to invest more in 21st-century infrastructure--in faster broadband, a modern national electrical grid, more well-distributed clean-power generation, modernized water and sewer systems, ports and airports, trains, roads, and bridges. We'll have to do a better job of educating and training a higher percentage of our people to fill the best jobs.

The Simpson-Bowles Commission recommended lowering the corporate tax rate and eliminating most of the deductions and credits that allow many very profitable companies to avoid a large percentage of the taxes they would otherwise pay, while others pay the legal maximum of 35%. The 35% rate is now the second-highest among wealthy nations, but the actual amount paid on corporate income is 23%, ranking us in the middle.

Source: Back to Work, by Bill Clinton, p. 56-57&77 , Nov 8, 2011

Cutting taxes for the rich hurts deficit and future

Q: What is it that Democrats and Republicans don't understand about how to make the economy work again?

A: Republicans believe that if you cut taxes, especially for upper-income people, that's always going to work, no matter what it does to the deficit and to our investment in the future. The republicans can't be completely allergic to taxes. The Democrats can't be completely allergic to changes in health care delivery.

Source: Time Magazine on "Back To Work" book tour by Bill Clinton , Jan 21, 2011

2000: Vetoed abolition of the Marriage Tax

It was a longstanding inequity in our income tax code that an unmarried couple filing separately pays less than a married couple filling jointly. We would have to draw down some of the federal budget surplus to pay for abolishing the "Marriage Penalty Tax," but what a good use for the surplus.

Now that we no longer had to spend enormous sums to counterbalance the former Soviet Union, it was time to do constructive things with our hard-won surplus. Both parties overwhelmingly supported fixing the marriage penalty.

President Clinton also vetoed the Marriage Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2000, calling it "poorly targeted and one part of a costly and regressive tax plan that reverses the principle of fiscal responsibility that has contributed to the longest economic expansion in history." He was right, and most Republican senators agreed privately that he was right.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 38-40 , Apr 1, 2008

Reneged on promise to address "forgotten middle class"

One of his most contentious disagreements with the press was his pledge early in the campaign to cut the taxes of the "forgotten" middle class--those making less than $80,000/year--by 10%. He continued to promote the idea even when he knew it was unworkable after hearing new deficit projections in August. As late as a week before Election Day, he said he would "absolutely not" consider postponing the tax cut. But afterward, when reporters pressed him at a news conference, he unwisely flashed his anger, claiming that "the press thought the most important issue in the race was the middle-class tax cut. I never did meet any voter who thought that." Reporters rebuked his coverage to aides, some of whom began calling NBC the "Nail Bill Clinton" network.
Source: For Love of Politics, by Sally Bedell Smith, Chapter 2 , Oct 23, 2007

OpEd: Broke campaign promise by tax rise & no spending cuts

Tim Penny was a Democrat from Minnesota whose frustration with Washington politics reached a tipping point when Pres. Clinton proposed a big tax increase with few spending cuts, going against his own campaign promise. Tim had enough with empty Washingto Tim's response to Bill Clinton's about-face actually cost the good people back home, but very quickly Tim took on a kind of folk-hero status--in Congress, in Minnesota, and across this great land. His stature grew enormously, simply because he took a stand. He was disillusioned with Clinton's plan, and with a political system that seemed bound to support it; more to the point, he didn't like how Clinton promised one thing and then went out and did another, so he stood against it.
Source: Stand For Something, by John Kasich, p. 78-79 , May 10, 2006

My tax cut is the sacrifice of all of us

The Republicans protected my tax cut at all costs while withholding promised funding to the Leave No Child Behind Act, leaving 2.1 million children behind, cutting 140,000 unemployed workers out of their job training programs, 100,000 working families ou of their child care assistance, and worst of all, while cutting 300,000 poor children out of their after-school programs, when we know it keeps them off the streets, out of trouble, in school, learning, going to college and having a good life. They protected my tax cuts while dramatically raising the out-of-pocket costs of health care to our veterans and weakening or reversing very important environmental measures, from clean air to forest protection. Now everyone in America had to sacrifice except the wealthiest Americans. And almost all of us, from Republicans to independents and Democrats, wanted to be asked to do our part, too. But all they asked us to do was to expend the energy necessary to open the envelopes containing our tax cuts.
Source: Speech to the Democratic National Convention , Jul 29, 2004

Never thought I’d be so well cared for by the Republicans

For the first time when America was in a war footing in our whole history, they gave two huge tax cuts, nearly half went to the top 1 percent of us. When I was in office, on occasion, the Republicans were kind of mean to me. But as soon as I got out and made money, I became the most important group in the world to them. It’s amazing. I never thought I’d be so well cared for by Bush and the Republicans. I almost sent them a thank you note for my tax cuts, until I realized you were paying the bill for it.
Source: Speech to the Democratic National Convention , Jul 29, 2004

Republican tax cut was too big & too bloated

I vetoed the Republican tax cut because it was “too big, too bloated,” and put too great a burden on America’s economy. Under the budget rules, the bill would have forced large cuts on education, health care, and environmental protection. It would have prevented us from extending the Social Security trust funds, & from adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. We were going to have a surplus this year of about $100 billion, but the proposed GOP tax cut would cost nearly $1 trillion over a decade
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.870 , Jun 21, 2004

Proposed raising taxes on rich even if no revenue increase

President Clinton at one point proposed raising taxes on the rich although it did not appear that it would increase the tax revenues received from them. A substantial proportion of the public said they favored higher taxes on high-income earners even is that did not increase the total taxes such people paid. The effect would not be to help anyone else but merely to pull down the better off. The motivation can only be envy, and it is surprising that so many people would admit harboring that emotion.
Source: Slouching Towards Gomorrah, by Robert Bork, p. 73 , Dec 16, 2003

Bush tax cuts are fiscally irresponsible in long run

The Bush administration insisted on passage of the tax cuts before anyone knew what our income was going to be, what our expenses were going to be, or what emergencies we might face. In fact, our income went down, our expenses went up, and we had a terrible emergency. Also, these tax cuts have too little stimulus in the short run and too little fiscal responsibility for the long run, with too many of the benefits going to the wealthiest Americans, who don't need them.
Source: Crossroads, by Andrew Cuomo, p. 38 , Oct 14, 2003

1990s: IRS, led by Yale Law classmate, targeted critics

The pattern of the IRS became conspicuous [under] the Clinton administration [when led by a Yale Law classmate]. In addition to a long list of conservative and libertarian groups and publications, targets of IRS audits in recent years have included Paula Jones, who received an audit notice 5 days after turning down a settlement offer from Bob Bennett; Kent Masterson Brown, the lawyer who filed the AAPS suit against the health care task force; and the boyfriend of Shelly Davis, the former IRS historian and author of a book critical of the agency. Ultra Air, the charter airline used by the White House travel office, was audited even though it had not yet been in business long enough to file a tax return. A woman named Patricia Mendoza found herself in trouble with the IRS one month after Bill Clinton approached to shake her hand at a rally and she blurted out the words "You suck." Mendoza and her husband were also held in custody by the Secret Service for twelve hours.
Source: The First Partner, by Joyce Milton, p.324 , May 3, 2000

1980: Broaden tax base or we have to cut services

After his 1980 defeat for reelection as governor, he appeared to a joint session of the legislature: "We pay less taxes than the people in any other state in the Union, not to mention the District of Columbia. Accordingly, we are at the bottom in the level of public services in nearly every category, from teacher salaries to higher education to unemployment compensation. There is but one answer--broadening the tax base--and the state will have to come to it, sooner or later, meantime settling for the barest minimums in services expected in the American society."

Looking back at his first term, he reflected: "I had hoped in my first term as governor that I would be able to make a dramatic difference, but the economy finally caught up with us."

Source: Clinton on Clinton, by Wayne Meyer, p. 35 , Nov 9, 1999

OpEd: 1993 budget included mostly progressive taxation

Clinton's 1993 budget included a largely PROGRESSIVE tax proposal which fell disproportionately on the wealthiest people in the country. 90% of the total tax increase fell on the UPPER 4%, those people then earning $100,000 a year or more. Only the top 1.2% saw an increase in income taxes. In fact, as a result of a substantial increase in the earned income tax credit included in that budget, 20 million low-income families, saw a DECREASE in their federal taxes. For the middle class, there was almost no tax increase at all. Certainly not $1,000 a head as the ad implies.

Unfortunately, there WERE elements of regressive taxation in that proposal, including a 4.3% increase in the gas tax. That's about $30/year, not much but still regressive in that it hits the average working stiff who travels 100 miles a day to and from work. Clinton also increased the amount of taxable Social Security income. That hike affected the upper 13% of Social Security recipients, many of whom live on only $44,000/year.

Source: Outsider in the House, by Bernie Sanders, p.196 , Jun 17, 1997

Target tax cuts on IRAs, education, & families