What Defeated a Negative Income Tax?: Constructing a Causal Explanation of a Politically Controversial Historical Event

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Critiques of Earlier Narratives

Assume that textual excerpts from primary (and early secondary) sources used in the paper's earlier narrative construction non-selectively represent the views of FAP battle participants, and that "Distinguishing Liberals from Conservatives" well interprets those sources. Further assume that ADA Liberal quotient well measures the leaning of a member of Congress toward the liberal tendency of "Distinguishing Liberals from Conservatives". Finally, making the assumptions required for doing so, give the results of the floor vote models a causal interpretation. Then previous narratives of the 1970-1972 FAP battles distort the causes of NIT defeat under Nixon.

If one takes the floor vote model results causally, then previous narratives exaggerate the role of the South in the defeat of FAR Moynihan's claim that "in reality the major question was how the South would respond" (1973, 375) overemphasizes the importance of that response. In fact southerners voted heavily against 91st and 92nd FAP bills on the House floor but both nevertheless passed handily. Piven and Cloward exaggerate when they claim that "southerners played the leading role in defeating the plan, using their considerable power in the congressional committee structure to work for its defeat" (1979, 341). Southern Senate Finance Committee members were central to FAP's 91st Congress defeat in their committee. However, southern Ways and Means Chair Mills led House passage of FAP twice.

Quadagno is right that "[t]he South alone could not defeat the bill" but wrong in hinting that a defacto alliance of Senate Finance Committee liberals and southerners did: "Another source of opposition emerged from liberal Senators on the Senate Finance Committee" (1990, 25). In fact the union of southern and liberal Senate Finance Committee anti-FAP votes was Byrd, Gore, Harris, McCarthy, Talmadge, and Williams. Even with the vote of Long these votes would not have defeated the measure. The anti-FAP votes of non-southern conservatives Curtis, Fannin, and Hansen were crucial to the defeat (see Tables 3 and 4). Conservative dominance of the Senate Finance Committee defeated FAP in the 91st Congress.14

Quadagno (1990, 23-5) is right that FAP would have upset the southern racial caste system in which many blacks had no choice but to work for whites as house servants and field hands at below the Federal minimum wage. That threat probably motivated the tenacity with which southern conservatives like Long, Talmadge, and Williams opposed the measure, and influenced the benefit structure of the GJOP alternative that Long crafted in the 92nd Congress. However, without the support of non-southern conservatives, the southern conservatives could not have defeated FAR In mid1970 that support on the Committee forced the Administration, to liberal dismay, to change the bill to make some on welfare worse off. That support also hovered behind the always present last resort threat to filibuster FAP to death.

Moynihan is right that the Cambodia invasion "greatly aroused the old distrust and hatred of the president" (1973, 499). Hertzberg extends the thought into an explanation of the defeat of FAP.

Some of the things Nixon proposed look positively radical by today's timid standards. The best example was his welfare reform proposal, the Family Assistance Plan, which would have put a floor under the income of everybody in the country.

There are congressional liberals who now rue the day they opposed that particular program. The fact that they did oppose it was a consequence of Vietnam - to be precise, a consequence of the atmosphere of mistrust, hostility, and suspicion that was created by Nixon's paranoia about Vietnam. The point is that the natural cycle of American politics, which was supposed to bring about the completion of the American welfare state, was so strong that it rolled right through the Nixon White House. Yet when it got there it was destroyed by Vietnam. (1985, 400-401)

Moynihan and Hertzberg are right that mistrust of Nixon helped to defeat FAR However, was the mistrust of Nixon that helped to defeat FAP engendered by the Vietnam War or by Administration FAP politics? Didn't the Administration retraction of its promise to make none of those on welfare worse off, and its snake oil sales-pitch that FAP would put those on welfare to work, engender the liberal mistrust that helped to defeat FAP? If one takes the floor vote model results causally, then the Moynihan-Hertzberg explanation exaggerates the role of Vietnam engendered mistrust of Nixon in the defeat of FAP.

"[N]atural cycle of American politics" and "supposed to bring about the completion" have a teleological quality. Hertzberg sees FAP resulting from an unexplained nature-like process whose ultimate purpose anti-war liberals frustrated. Burke and Burke 1974 see FAP as the "Good Deed" of their title. Didn't, however, Nixon offer an NIT to "put a floor under the income of everybody in the country" no lower than the then existing floor, in response to domestic disorder? Did not liberals first welcome FAP and only turn on it when Nixon decided to lower the then existing floor for some of the poor? Do either the nature-like or good-deed explanations of the FAP offer accord with the historical evidence, in part presented by Burke and Burke themselves?

Coyle and Wildavsky offer the following explanation for the defeat of FAP.

The guaranteed income plans died in part because egalitarians, encouraged by the administration's portrayal, began believing their exaggerated rhetoric about the inadequacy of the Nixon proposal. In each house, liberals proposed more egalitarian alternatives to the Family Assistance Plan that would broaden coverage to include all individuals and greatly raise the minimum floor.... in those days the elites who spoke for egalitarianism would not go along. In their eyes, reform was certainly too little, perhaps too late. Everyone had to be made better off. No means test was permissible. Nothing could be left for tomorrow. The system was so rotten that only the most radical change was tolerable. Demanding far greater expenditure so that all welfare recipients would immediately receive substantially more, while denigrating the considerable change that could be accomplished, cast a pall over income maintenance before it was buried. (1987, 9 and 13)

Evidently they believe that "egalitarians" defeated FAP by withholding support for it when they could not increase its coverage and benefit levels. They offer no evidence for their claim that House liberals offered an alternative to FAP, and no other secondary source confirms it. Harris, who proposed moving the floor to the poverty line over several years, never insisted that "[n]othing could be left for tomorrow". The concern of liberals was less that "[e]veryone had to be made better off' and more that some not be made worse off. Also, the October 1972 Senate floor vote model results provide scant evidence that "egalitarians" voted differently than other liberals.

Finally, Mead claims that "[t]he real battle was over what kind of work requirements should be attached to the new benefits that most members wanted. Reform died, in essence, because conservatives and moderates demanded more onerous requirements than liberals would accept" (1986, 104). For the 1970-1972 period the claim is partly true. Conservatives did want more onerous work requirements than liberals. However, the details of GJOP and the two versions of FAP considered in the 92nd Congress suggest that conservatives did not want the same benefits as liberals. So in the 1970-1972 period reform probably died for three reasons. Conservatives demanded more onerous work requirements than liberals would accept. Liberals demanded that reform make none of the poor worse off in income terms and conservatives refused. The Administration retracted its proposed reform making none of the poor worse off in income terms, after realizing that the threat to domestic tranquility from the urban poor had ended.

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