If top rates return to Reagan era, O’Reilly might quit

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly boasted the other day that he enjoys “more power than anybody other than the president.”

Apparently, though, this rather extraordinary degree of influence over national affairs isn’t quite enough for the conservative media personality. In fact, O’Reilly is so concerned about his potential tax burden under the “Buffett Rule,” he told his television audience last night he might just quit working altogether.

“I must tell you I want the feds to get more revenue. I don’t want to starve them as some people do. We need a robust military, a good transportation system and protections all over the place.

“But if you tax achievement, some of the achievers are going to pack it in. Again, let’s take me. My corporations employ scores of people. They depend on me to do what I do so they can make a nice salary. If Barack Obama begins taxing me more than 50 percent, which is very possible, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this. I like my job but there comes a point when taxation becomes oppressive. Is the country really entitled to half a person’s income?”

In case anyone’s interested in the relevant details, let’s clarify a few things.

First, we don’t know if President Obama is eyeing a top rate of 50%, and even if he did, the likelihood of congressional passage would be roughly zero.

Second, a top rate of 50% does not mean O’Reilly would lose “half” his income. I know this can seem a little complicated, but that’s just not how marginal tax rates work.

And third, a 50% top rate for millionaires and billionaires would be a departure from the recent past, but to describe it as “oppressive” is to forget much of the 20th century.

In Ronald Reagan’s first term, for example, the top rate was — you guessed it — 50%. Did Reagan’s “oppressive” tax rates prevent robust economic growth? Did “the achievers” decide to “pack it in”? No and no.

For nearly all of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, the top rate was 91%. That’s not a typo. Did this Republican president’s “oppressive” tax policy prevent the U.S. economy from growing in the 1950s? Apparently not.

That said, if O’Reilly is contemplating retirement to avoid helping America pay its bills, I’m not inclined to discourage him.