As promised, Barack Obama unveiled his administration’s new deficit reduction plan this afternoon, in the White House rose garden. [Those who want the facts can find an outline of the plan on the White House website. A PDF of the entire proposal can be found there as well.] From what I can tell, it marks a fairly significant turn away from the “grand bargain” that Obama offered Republicans several weeks ago. While retaining some of the same elements, the cuts to so-called entitlement programs don’t appear as deep, and, for a change, Obama seems to be serious about including revenue increases alongside cuts, even going so far as to say that he’d veto any bill that comes across his desk that doesn’t include them. The following overview comes from The Atlantic:
President Obama on Monday called for a combination of spending cuts and $1.5 trillion in new tax revenue increases that would save $3 trillion over the next decade. And he will warn Congress that if they do not give him a “balanced” package that includes tax increases for the wealthiest Americans, he will use his veto and make them start again.
“We can’t just cut our way out of this hole,” Obama said.
Slightly more than half of the $1.5 trillion attributed to tax reform — $800 billion — would come from letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire. The other $700 billion, the officials said, would come from other changes in tax law. Many of those measures, they acknowledged, will look very familiar because they have previously been proposed by Obama. Those would include limiting deductions for those making more than $250,000, ending tax preferences for owners of corporate jets, and ending oil and gas preferences. They said roughly $300 billion of the $700 billion would come from closing loopholes…
And the response from the Republicans, who would much rather avoid taxing their wealthy campaign donors, while slashing programs like Medicare and Medicaid to the bone, has been predictably hyperbolic. The following clip comes from the New York Times:
…“Veto threats, a massive tax hike, phantom savings and punting on entitlement reform is not a recipe for economic or job growth — or even meaningful deficit reduction,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. “The good news is that the joint committee is taking this issue far more seriously than the White House.”
Mr. Boehner said, “This administration’s insistence on raising taxes on job creators and its reluctance to take the steps necessary to strengthen our entitlement programs are the reasons the president and I were not able to reach an agreement previously, and it is evident today that these barriers remain”…
By “strengthen our entitlement programs,” Boehner means to defund them, but I guess you knew that.
And that was just the tip of the iceberg. Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who would prefer to balance the budget on the backs of working men and women, accused the President of class warfare. “Class warfare,” said Ryan, “will simply divide this country more, will attack job creators, divide people, and it doesn’t grow the economy.” Others echoed the sentiment, making the unsubstantiated claim that ending the Bush tax cuts would kill small business. My favorite Republican argument against shared sacrifice by the rich came from Florida Congressman John Fleming, who said that, without the Bush tax cuts, he’d have to make ends meet with only $400,000 a year, after feeding his family… I’m sure that’s going to resonate with the unemployed of America.
I get tired of saying it, but I think it’s worth restating that the Bush tax cuts were never meant to be permanent. They were passed ten years ago, as the nation slid into recession, with the promise that they would lead to jobs. Those jobs, as we know now, never came. (Record profits came – that’s true – but the jobs never followed.) But, in spite of that, we decided to extend them beyond their agreed to sunset date. And, now, as the deficit continues to swell as a result, we find ourselves teetering on brink of collapse. The President didn’t use those exact words, but he said as much today. “We can’t afford these special lower rates for the wealthy — rates, by the way, that were meant to be temporary,” said Obama. “We can’t afford them when we’re running these big deficits.”
And, with that, it seems as though progressive Democrats are gathering once more in support of Obama. The following comes from the Washington Monthly:
…Given what we’ve seen this year, it’s been tough to know what to expect from the White House when it comes to major policy showdowns with congressional Republicans. As recently as July, President Obama, seemingly desperate to strike a “Grand Bargain” with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), was willing to give away the store. Fortunately, the GOP refused to accept it…
Going into this morning’s speech on debt reduction, we saw a very similar dynamic, with fears that the Obama plan would cut Social Security and raise the Medicare eligibility age. And again, the president exceeded expectations…
Given the larger political circumstances, it’s unlikely the president’s proposal will enjoy much support in the right-wing House, making this more of an opening salvo than a realistic legislative blueprint. But in some respects, that’s the most heartening part of the recent White House shift — Obama and his team aren’t playing by the same rules anymore. Indeed, they appear to have thrown out the old playbook altogether…
Of course, some are questioning Obama’s motives. This could, after all, just be a cynical political on his part. Knowing that this plan will never pass the House, he could merely be trying to force Republicans to say on the record, as we head into election season, that they’d rather allow social programs to collapse and the deficit to spiral out of control, than see their precious tax cuts come to an end. Some, like New York’s Chuck Schumer, however, seem to think that there may be a chance of actually passing it, though. Schumer’s suggesting that the so-called Buffet Rule be brought to a vote as soon as possible. The following comes Sam Stein at the Huffington Post:
…”This is a game changer in the tax debate,” Schumer said during a conference call on Monday. “It will make the Republican position almost indefensible. The president has a winning hand, and he is going all in. And I believe Democrats will be behind him. … Just about every Democrat will be behind him.”
Later in the conference call, Schumer said he would like to see the Buffett rule actually drafted into legislative language, scored for budget effect and put to a vote. Considering that the Democratic Party lacks the Senate members to overcome a filibuster or, in all likelihood, the discipline to secure all the Democratic votes, that seems far-fetched, although Schumer urged the president to barnstorm the country to whip up support.
“I find it very useful to make some proposal along the line that fits within the confines of the Buffett rule and put it on the floor… Once the president goes around the country and keeps talking about it, as I believe he will do, we are going to win this fight,” Schumer said…
So, it all comes down to how well the President makes the case to the American people… and the campaign began in earnest today.
“Middle-class families shouldn’t pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires,” said Obama. “This is not class warfare,” he said. “It’s math.”
Now I guess we’ll just have to wait and see whether the American people respond to math as well as they do to demagoguery.
I have my doubts.