(Bloomberg View) — Jeb Bush has lately been defending his brother George — the former president — against Donald Trump’s criticism, and George is raising funds for Jeb’s presidential campaign. What all this fraternal support obscures is the extent of the policy differences between the two. Despite his reputation for moderation, on issue after issue Jeb has taken positions that are significantly to the right of his brother’s — and of every other president in recent memory.
Start with taxes. Like his brother in 2000, Jeb Bush is running at a time when the top statutory income-tax rate is 39.6 percent. George W. Bush proposed reducing that to 33 percent. Jeb wants to cut it to 28 percent. George left taxes on businesses largely alone. Jeb wants to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, and let businesses write off the costs of their investments immediately. George kept the alternative minimum tax in place, too, where Jeb wants to eliminate it. All in all, Jeb’s plan is far more oriented toward supply-side economics than George’s was.
On spending, too, Jeb has tried to stake out a position to the right of his brother, without directly criticizing him. He said in May that “during my brother’s time, Republicans spent too much money.” One of George’s major promises in 2000 was to create a new subsidy for prescription-drug purchases by the elderly, which eventually became Medicare Part D.
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Jeb has no comparable initiative. He says his brother’s plan should have been paid for, and has spoken positively about Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal to restrain Medicare spending.
In important respects, Jeb’s health care positions are also more conservative than his brother’s. For years, conservative think-tankers pushed Republicans to change the tax treatment of health insurance so that people who buy coverage for themselves can get an equivalent tax break to those who get it through their employers — and without having to obey highly prescriptive federal regulations on what kind they can buy. George Bush’s administration made only a half-hearted effort to do so, too late in his term to make a difference. Jeb has advanced a plan to create a much more competitive individual market.