Tags: leon panetta | john sununu | george bush sr. | tax | pledge

Sununu Disputes Panetta Version of Bush Sr. Tax Pledge

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Thursday, 16 Oct 2014 10:13 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Former Secretary of Defense and one-time California Democratic Rep. Leon Panetta's startling claim that George H.W. Bush discussed abandoning his famous 1988 campaign pledge of "no new taxes" shortly before assuming the presidency was sharply disputed by someone who was close to the 41st president before and during his years in the White House: John Sununu, who was Bush's chief of staff from 1989-91.

In his just-released book, "Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace," Panetta recalls meeting with Bush in the vice presidential residence shortly after his election as president in 1988. During that meeting, the then-House Budget Committee chairman said he voiced disappointment with the president-elect's vow on the campaign trail of "Read my lips: no new taxes!" and warned him: "If you're serious about dealing with [the budget challenges], ultimately you're going to have to move away from the whole 'Read my lips.'"

"Look, I know," Panetta quotes Bush as telling him, "I've taken that position, but my hope is that after a little time here, I may be able to adjust that position." [Emphasis added]

But its veracity was questioned by former New Hampshire Gov. Sununu, who was with Bush throughout his '88 campaign, his transition period before entering the White House, and his presidency for nearly three years.

"Leon is clearly suffering from a slight case of senility, like all of us 75 and over occasionally do" Sununu told Newsmax yesterday, "Look, I was with him throughout the ['88] campaign, the transition period before entering the White House, and most of his presidency.

"He was always adamant about balancing budgets without taxes. And in his first year, he achieved the goal of a budget that did not include any tax increases."

Recalling the controversial 1990 budget deal, Sununu said that Bush initially agreed to a budget that included a small increase in the gas tax.

"But after [then-House Republican Whip Newt] Gingrich went to the press and opposed the budget after agreeing to it in meetings between the White House and congressional leaders, the resulting revolt among some House Republicans helped Democrats defeat it," he said, "and then, without a united Republican Party in the House, the Democrats forced an agreement that had personal tax increases instead of the original gas tax hike."

"The Democratic leadership in Congress forced it as ransom in order to get a budget.

[Then-Senate Majority Leader George] Mitchell and [then-Speaker of the House Tom] Foley required the tax increase and President Bush reluctantly agreed to it in order to get a multi-year budget."

"[Bush] knew what the political consequences were, but he nonetheless made a statesmanlike decision."

In 1992, Bush was challenged in Republican primaries by conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, who rallied economic conservatives by hitting hard at the president's broken pledge on taxes. Bush was eventually re-nominated but lost to Bill Clinton in a contest that also included independent Ross Perot. Many conservatives abandoned him in the fall because of his failure to live up to his no-tax pledge of 1988.

While insisting that Bush was reluctantly forced to agree to the budget that included a tax increase, Sununu also believes it turned out to be a good idea because "surpluses came from the agreement. That's because it built into the budget 'pay as you go' arrangements that conservatives always wanted.

"President Clinton and [then-Republican House Speaker Newt] Gingrich patted themselves on the back for all of their agreements that cut spending and brought the deficit down. But the major reason for the eventual budget surplus in the 1990s was the budget President Bush paid such a high price for."

But as for Bush ever thinking of breaking his 1988 campaign vow before becoming president, as Panetta claims, Sununu says "there's no way those phrases ring true. They could never, under any circumstances, come out of the mouth of George Herbert Walker Bush."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.




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Former Secretary of Defense and one-time California Democratic Rep. Leon Panetta's startling claim that George H.W. Bush discussed abandoning his famous 1988 campaign pledge of "no new taxes" shortly before assuming the presidency...
leon panetta, john sununu, george bush sr., tax, pledge
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2014-13-16
Thursday, 16 Oct 2014 10:13 PM
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