A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sessions Wrong on Bush Tax Cuts


Sen. Jeff Sessions wrongly claimed that federal revenues "went up every single year" after the Bush tax cuts were "put in." Actually, federal revenues declined for three straight years after the first tax cut was signed in 2001.

The Alabama Republican made his statement on "Face the Nation."

Sessions, July 10: The revenue went up every single year after those tax cuts were put in. The revenue is down now because of the low economy.

The first tax cut — the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 — was signed into law June 7, 2001. It began to affect revenues almost immediately as "advance rebate" checks were mailed to millions of taxpayers starting that July. After the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2001, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculated that those rebates had already amounted to $35 billion. As a result, CBO said, federal income tax receipts fell that year, rather than posting an increase.

CBO, Nov. 14, 2001: Individual income tax receipts fell by $10 billion, or 1.0 percent, in fiscal year 2001. Those receipts would have increased by roughly 3 percent without the $35 billion in tax rebates and smaller reductions from other tax cuts.

In fact, total federal revenues declined in fiscal year 2001 for the first time since 1983, mainly because of the Bush tax cuts. The CBO said total revenues declined by 1.7 percent, but otherwise would have increased by 1.5 percent.

CBO, Nov. 14, 2001: That decline, the first since 1983, was caused by a combination of factors: the slowing economy, tax reductions, and shifts in the timing of tax payments. Even without the recent tax changes (mainly the tax cuts and timing shifts enacted in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001), revenues would have grown by only about 1.5 percent.

Total federal revenues declined not only in 2001, but also in the following two years, according to CBO historical budget figures. In fiscal 2002, total revenues declined by $138 billion, and in fiscal 2003, they went down for a third year in a row — by nearly $71 billion. Revenues turned up in fiscal 2004, but didn't reach pre-tax-cut levels until fiscal year 2005.

We pointed out these figures to the senator's spokesman, Stephen Miller, who blamed the revenue declines of 2001, 2002 and 2003 on the 2001 recession. But that recession ended in November 2001, and federal revenues continued to go down for the next two years. And, as we noted, CBO determined that both income tax revenues and total overall revenues would have increased in 2001, if not for the tax cuts.

Miller also said Sessions was referring to the period after May 2003, when Bush signed the second, and smaller, of his two major tax reductions. But the fact remains that the largest of Bush's cuts was "put in" starting in 2001, and significantly reduced federal revenues.

— Wendy Zhao