Today's "Playbook" e-mail from Politico starts with an excerpt from Chris Matthews's new book, "Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked," about the relationship between Matthews's former boss, House Speaker Tip O'Neill (D-Mass.), and President Ronald Reagan.
Matthews argues that O'Neill and Reagan's relationship represented a now-gone era of bipartisan cooperation, where things got done. "During this period, government met its deadlines," Matthews writes. "Members of Congress listened and acted. Debates led to solutions. Shutdowns were averted."
After months of lawmakers dancing around the subject--holding preliminary hearings, floating proposals--it appears that tax reform is getting started in earnest. As evidence that it can actually finally get done, some are pointing to the last time Congress managed to pull off a major overhaul: The Tax Reform Act of 1986. The New York Times held it up as a model. House Speaker John Boehner harkened back to "the 1986 experience." A business group says the current divided government and desire to close loopholes and lower overall rates means it's time to "party like it's 1986."
This is, I think, a mostly useless exercise. Obama and Reagan presided over different kinds of recessions that began at different times and ended in different ways. Imagine you had two doctors, one who had treated a patient for a drug overdose, and another who was treating a patient who recently suffered a heart attack. Would flatly comparing the speed of the two patients’ recoveries tell you anything about the doctors? Of course not. So too with Obama and Reagan. But if you do want to compare the two presidents, here are some things to keep in mind:
Economist Robert Barro thinks real recovery will only come from austerity. And not this weak sauce, supercommittee-and-discretionary-spending-cuts austerity. Real austerity. A consumption tax and an end to the mortgage-interest deduction and a rise in the retirement age and massive spending cuts. I don’t agree, but to each their own, obviously. The part of the op-ed that really confuses, though, is the grand finale: “This dream could become reality if our leader were Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton — the two presidential heroes of the American economy since World War II — but Mr. Obama is another story.”