It’s Reagan’s party no more

It should cause no shortage of frustration for congressional Republicans that President Obama is in line with the Reagan legacy — and they’re actively rejecting it. Politico‘s David Rogers had a fine piece of reporting touching on this point yesterday.

With the nation at risk of default next month, the Republicans’ fierce anti-tax orthodoxy is running square into the Ghost of the Gipper — the GOP’s great modern, pre-tea party hero, Ronald Reagan.

Indeed, a POLITICO review of Reagan’s own budget documents shows that the Republican president repeatedly signed deficit-reduction legislation in the 1980’s that melded annual tax increases with spending cuts just as President Barack Obama is now asking Congress to consider.

Rogers’ analysis found that the tax increases Reagan agreed to, as part of negotiations with a Democratic Congress — increases that included raising the gasoline tax and payroll taxes — are actually bigger than anything the Obama White House is proposing now. (On taxes, this puts Reagan slightly to Obama’s left.) For that matter, it’s also worth noting that the conservative Republicans of the 1980s were absolutely certain that Reagan’s policy would destroy the economy, and as part of the right’s unyielding track record of failure, they were wrong.

The larger point, though, is that when the 40th president sat down with lawmakers to work on debt reduction, he accepted as a given that the agreement would include a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. The debate would be over the ratio. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons Reagan ended up raising taxes in seven out of the eight years he was in office. (Remember, “no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people” as Reagan.)

What’s more, Reagan’s views on the debt ceiling weren’t exactly vague.

In a November 1983 letter to then-Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), Reagan warned that without a higher debt ceiling, the country could be forced to default for the first time in its history.

Reagan wrote: “The full consequences of a default — or even the serious prospect of default — by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar.”

This really shouldn’t matter. Republicans should simply realize that raising the debt ceiling is the sane thing to do and act accordingly. But given Republicans’ religious reverence for “Ronaldus Magnus,” it’s worth appreciating the extent to which today’s GOP is deliberately turning its back on the Reagan legacy.

Mike Huckabee recently said, “Ronald Reagan would have a very difficult, if not impossible, time being nominated in this atmosphere of the Republican Party.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a nearly identical take last year, arguing Reagan “would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.”

I agree, but what does that tell contemporary GOP officials? What should Republicans take away from the fact that, by 2011 standards, their party would dismiss their demigod as a tax-raising, amnesty-loving, pro-bailout, cut-and-run, big-government Democrat?

Or more to the point, doesn’t it bother Republicans, just a little, that Barack Obama is more in line with the Reagan legacy than they are?