WASHINGTON -- The Republican Party's dogmatic opposition to raising taxes has been a consistent obstacle to patching together a broader deal to decrease the nation's growing debt. And for Democrats with good long-term memories, it's not only causing some irritation -- it's also prompting a bit of nostalgia for days past.
That's because some of the same GOP lawmakers holding the line on taxes today once presented themselves as willing compromisers on the issue in the past. The most recently unearthed example, pointed out Wednesday by ThinkProgress, comes courtesy of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who ended his 1990 reelection campaign with an ad titled "Fair Share." In it, the Kentucky Republican -- in the midst of a increasingly tight contest -- positioned himself as open-minded on the subject of tax rates.
"Unlike some folks around here, I think everyone should pay their fair share, including the rich," McConnell declares in the ad.
The Huffington Post reached out to the University of Oklahoma Political Communication Center, which houses "the largest and most comprehensive collection of political broadcast advertising in the world," for a video copy of the ad. The Center did not immediately have access to the video. McConnell's Senate office, however, did provide a full transcript of the piece, pasted below (emphasis ours):
I'm sure you've been watching this mess in Washington.
I'd like you to know how I feel about it.
I haven't voted for one of these lousy budget packages for years and I won't vote for this one.
It would raise taxes on the wrong people.
Unlike some folks around here I think everyone should pay their fair share. Including the rich.
We need to protect our seniors from Medicare cuts too.
I don't care if the President or Congressional leaders twist my arm. I won't support any deal that isn't a fair deal for the working families of Kentucky.
A November 5, 1990 Roll Call article, found via Lexis-Nexis, reveals that the producers of the ad were Greg Stevens, a longtime GOP operative, and Roger Ailes, currently the president of Fox News Channel, an outlet that has provided a fairly large megaphone for the anti-tax-increase, pro-Medicare reform crowd. For good measure, the man who managed McConnell's '90 campaign, Steven Law, is currently President and CEO of American Crossroads, a conservative group that has routinely chastised Democrats for trying to soak the rich with tax hikes.
Asked for comment, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart argued that there were no inconsistencies between the senator's position in 1990 and his stance today. The "lousy" budget package he railed against in the ad was George H.W. Bush's infamous 1990 'read my lips' budget deal that increased the top marginal tax rates from roughly 28 percent to 31 percent. McConnell "vehemently" opposed that deal, Stewart said. And in the ad, he was simply stressing that "he supports tax reform, he does not support increasing taxes."
"If that sounds familiar, it should," Stewart added, noting that current top income rates stands even higher: 35 percent.
And yet, the 1990 campaign ad still stands out for what it says about the political mood of the country -- specifically the mood in economically depressed areas that usually vote Republican. McConnell is known for being one of Congress' more astute political minds. The fact that he once espoused tax code fairness in the heat of a tight election shows that even people from Kentucky, at one point, applauded lawmakers for asking the wealthy to further subsidize the social safety net for the middle class and poor.
"What has been amazing, watching his career, is it doesn't bother him a bit to say whatever he needs to say to get re-elected. Mitch would just say whatever he needed to say," said Jim Cunningham, a long time Democratic operative who managed the campaign of McConnell's 1990 challenger, Harvey Sloane.
In Kentucky, "there was a time when ... you could poll people on taxes and they believed that if you needed to raise their taxes, especially to take care of education, you should do it," Cunningham said. "Over the years it seems like folks pay less and less attention. At the same time that the Republican Party in our state has helped them buy into this notion that we don't need to tax the rich because they are the ones who create the jobs."
UPDATE: McConnell's office points out that immediately after the 1990 ad aired, the campaign clarified that he wasn't talking about tax rates but tax deductions. From a October 18, 1990 Lexington Herald-Leader article:
Law, was asked why McConnell, who always has said he opposes any increase in taxes, is now talking about taxing the rich.
“He has said everyone should pay their fair share, including the rich,” Law said during a news conference in the Capitol. “While he’s not talking about an increase in the rates, he thinks there may be some tax deductions that should be looked at that were created during the 1980s and possibly eliminated.”