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Will Democrats ditch a policy that's produced more equal incomes?

Michael Barone on

The policies of defeated one-term presidents are not as easily reversed as their victorious successors, suffused with campaign rhetoric, sometimes suppose they will be. Even when, as now, the winning party has majorities in both houses of Congress.

Those margins, after Democrats' wins in the U.S. Senate races in Georgia Tuesday, are tenuous, 51-50 in the Senate, 222-211 in the House. They're eerily similar to Republicans' margins when George W. Bush became president 20 years ago, 51-50 in the Senate, 221-212 in the House.

Those narrow margins didn't prevent Bush from serious legislative accomplishments -- a major tax bill, a bipartisan education bill. But such results are not easily duplicable today. The government then was running surpluses, not record deficits, and the parties' caucuses then were less ideologically homogeneous.

Partisan feelings are rawer as well. We have passed through four years of Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats proclaiming Donald Trump's presidency was "illegitimate" and pursuing the Russian-collusion hoax. Trump is trumping that by attacking his defeat as "fraudulent" and threatening to keep delegitimizing his successor and to attack Republicans who don't join him.

One dismal and escalating departure from norms after another.

Even so, the comparatively calm business of policymaking can and will go on. And while the narrow Democratic majorities will naturally reverse some Trump policies, there's a serious argument for pausing to consider what their predecessors got right.

 

Such as economic equity. The macroeconomy during the first three Trump years grew robustly, with real median household income rising 9% after near-zero growth from 1999 to 2016.

Even more striking, gains in the Trump years were greatest at the low-income levels, rather than high-income levels: 4.7% wage growth among the lowest quarter of earners in 2019, with the bottom 90% increasing their share of overall earnings for the first time in a decade.

Since the 1980s, Democrats have been lamenting stagnant wages among low earners even as billionaires make dazzling gains. Republicans have sometimes sung the same tune. But nonetheless, the trend continued during the Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama presidencies.

Democrats' tax increases on high earners didn't reverse this. Neither did their 2009 stimulus package or 2010 health care law. Something else did in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

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