He Didn't Mean to, But WashPost's Glenn Kessler Did Conservatives a Favor with Reagan Fact Check on 1982 Tax Deal

Without even realizing it, the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler has done a great service for the conservative movement and the interests of taxpayers. For the first time, we have in one place—citable in a mainstream news source—definitive proof that President Reagan was tricked into agreeing to a phony spending cut/real tax hike deal. The minor detail that the fact checker draws the wrong conclusion is as immaterial as it is expected—for most fact checkers, the Republican is wrong even when he’s right.

We have an excerpt from Reagan’s memoirs. We have a quote from a Reagan nationally-televised speech. We have numbers broken out showing that the deal was, in fact, $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax hikes. We have quotations and descriptions of how Senator Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and OMB Director David Stockman basically knew all along that the spending cuts were phony. We have Secretary of Defense Cap Weinberger willfully refusing to implement the phony spending cuts. We have Dole writing a letter to the President desperately seeking to assure him that he didn’t just get his wallet lifted, thank you very much. We even have Jack Kemp as the taxpayer hero, detailing for the President the whys and wherefores of how he got sold a bill of goods.


That level of research is impressive. It is a treasure trove of evidence that the 1982 TEFRA deal was a lemon, and the Washington Post has delivered it to taxpayers in one fact check. Taxpayers owe Glenn Kessler and his staff a debt of gratitude.

What’s the Post’s argument against this body of damning evidence they gathered against their own position?

Kessler says: 1. President Reagan should have known better (i.e., blaming the victim). 2. It was his own administration that undermined him (as if taxpayers care who in the government reneged). 3. Domestic spending as a percent of the economy actually declined (in reality, not only is this an arbitrary metric, it has more to do with the Reagan economic recovery than anything else).

None of this is compelling or interesting. What concerns taxpayers is a simple series of questions: was President Reagan promised $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases? Yes.

Were the tax increases real? Yes—in fact, this deal was the source of the modern alternative minimum tax (AMT) we’re still dealing with as part of the fiscal cliff.

Finally, were the spending cuts real? Based on the evidence gathered by the Washington Post itself, the answer to that has to be a definitive “no.”

Whether the culprits came from Capitol Hill or Reagan’s own bureaucracy is beside the point—taxes went up, and spending did not go down as promised.