Let’s see if I can get this straight. Are we trying to cut federal government spending and reduce the deficit? Increase jobs? Engage the masses in class warfare? Note to self: Where’s my pitchfork? And what side am I supposed to be on? Dismantle entitlement programs? Strengthen and enhance entitlement programs? All or none of the above.
For a Congress and President that accomplishes very little beyond giving speeches and making appearances with the Inside the Beltway Chattering Classes on the Sunday TV talk shows it sure seems like there are a lot of fish in the skillet these days.
And why does it appear to this pajama-clad citizen journalist that all the proposals currently clogging the nation’s collective attention span will amount to nothing more than peeing in a sleeping bag on a cold morning? Sure. It gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling. But doesn’t accomplish much in the long run.
I could, of course, take the time to construct a solid case for all of this. But instead I’ll defer to David Brooks, the token conservative on the NYT op-ed page. Here’s from his article “Obama Rejects Obamaism“:
I liked Obama’s payroll tax cut ideas and urged Republicans to play along. But of course I’m a sap. When the president unveiled the second half of his stimulus it became clear that this package has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill.
It recycles ideas that couldn’t get passed even when Democrats controlled Congress. In his remarks Monday the president didn’t try to win Republicans to even some parts of his measures. He repeated the populist cries that fire up liberals but are designed to enrage moderates and conservatives.
He claimed we can afford future Medicare costs if we raise taxes on the rich. He repeated the old half-truth about millionaires not paying as much in taxes as their secretaries. (In reality, the top 10 percent of earners pay nearly 70 percent of all income taxes, according to the I.R.S. People in the richest 1 percent pay 31 percent of their income to the federal government while the average worker pays less than 14 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.)
This wasn’t a speech to get something done. This was the sort of speech that sounded better when Ted Kennedy was delivering it. The result is that we will get neither short-term stimulus nor long-term debt reduction anytime soon, and I’m a sap for thinking it was possible.
Well, maybe Brooks just got up on the wrong side of the sleeping bag. Let’s see how Dana Milbank views things these days since he is generally swinging from the left side of the plate. Here’s from his article in WaPo “Obama launches a revolution“:
Let us begin by stipulating that President Obama’s new budget plan is unrealistic, highly partisan and a non-starter on Capitol Hill.
That’s what’s so good about it.
At last, the president hasn’t conceded the race before the starter’s gun, hasn’t opened the bidding with his bottom line, hasn’t begun a game of strip poker in his boxer shorts. Whichever metaphor you choose, it was refreshing to see the president in the Rose Garden on Monday morning delivering a speech that, for once, appealed to the heart rather than the cerebrum.
“It is wrong that in the United States of America a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million,” the newly populist Obama declared.
Obama squinted into the morning sunlight and chopped the autumn air with his left hand. He got sputtering mad — literally — when he said his opponents would have us “settle for second-rate roads and second-rate bridges and second-rate airports and — and — and — schools that are crumbling.”
Then came that rarest of Obama moves: an ultimatum. “I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share.”
Republican howls of complaints began even before the speech.
“Class warfare,” protested Paul Ryan.
“Class warfare,” complained Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.
“Class warfare,” judged House Speaker John Boehner.
The president welcomed the charge. “I reject the idea that asking a hedge fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or teacher is class warfare,” he told the Rose Garden crowd of 200. “I think it’s just the right thing to do.”
A moment later, the class warrior added: “Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare. . . . Either we gut education and medical research, or we’ve got to reform the tax code so that the most profitable corporations have to give up tax loopholes that other companies don’t get. We can’t afford to do both. This is not class warfare. It’s math.”
The audience — a quickly assembled collection of students, retirees and federal bureaucrats — chuckled at this line. Obama didn’t crack a smile.
But if you are looking for a laugh, look no further than the so-called Buffett Rule. Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor and stock picker, wants to pay his fair share of taxes and argues that his tax rate should not be lower than that of his secretary. Hard not to raise your pitchfork in favor of that notion.
But here’s the rub, as Roger Simon points out in Politico, “Eat the Rich“:
“This is not class warfare,” the president promised. “It’s math.”
Well, sort of. Though the rich do benefit enormously, the poor and middle class benefit from the current Tax Code, too. About half the households in America pay no income taxes at all, because the Tax Code says they don’t make enough. And middle-class taxpayers get a large break by being able to deduct their home mortgage interest. (Want a true third-rail in American politics? Try suggesting the elimination of that last one. Obama didn’t on Monday.)
In truth, the Tax Code gives too many breaks to too many people.
“All told, federal taxpayers last year received $1.08 trillion in credits, deductions and other perks while paying $1.09 trillion in income taxes, according to government estimates,” wrote Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post on Sunday. “Only about 8 percent of those benefits went to corporations. … The bulk went to private households, primarily upper middle-class families that Obama has vowed to protect from new taxes.”
And call me cynical (or an asshat) but as soon as the Prez reveals some specifics about the Buffett Rule, you can be sure the Oracle of Omaha’s tax advisers will be hard at work figuring out a way to avoid the tax.
Wonder if Mr. Buffett sleeps in a sleeping bag?