What Ronald Reagan Didn’t Say About the EITC

I like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). It encourages work and allows millions of low-wage workers and their kids to escape a life of poverty. Democrats support it as a critical part of the safety net. Republicans back it because it rewards work and family. Just last week, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) endorsed President Obama’s proposal to increase the EITC for childless workers.

Republican icon Ronald Reagan supported the Tax Reform Act of 1986’s expansion of  the EITC. And he is widely quoted on liberal websites (such as this one) as saying that “the Earned Income Tax Credit is the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.”

Except he never said it.

Here’s what President Reagan did say when he signed the tax reform act:

For all these reasons, this tax bill is less a freedom — or a reform, I should say — than a revolution. Millions of working poor will be dropped from the tax rolls altogether, and families will get a long-overdue break with lower rates and an almost doubled personal exemption. We’re going to make it economical to raise children again. Flatter rates will mean more reward for that extra effort, and vanishing loopholes and a minimum tax will mean that everybody and every corporation pay their fair share. And that’s why I’m certain that the bill I’m signing today is not only an historic overhaul of our tax code and a sweeping victory for fairness, it’s also the best anti-poverty bill, the best pro-family measure, and the best job-creation program ever to come out of the Congress of the United States.

He was calling the whole bill a great anti-poverty program, not just the EITC.

The misquotation has been around for a long time. When I was working for the Clinton Administration in the late 1990s, I wanted to use it in a speech. Fortunately, a staffer—who was a strong supporter for the EITC—told me that the quote was badly out of context and I dropped it.

There are lots of good reasons to support the EITC. We don’t need to make stuff up to bolster the case.

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