This week, I'm struggling against my own confirmation bias, not to say everything I've learned about what drives elections (near-10% unemployment, anyone?). But I think that with the Labor Day kickoff Obama has been on point, effectively recasting the past 20 months as a course correction -- too slow, but moving the right way. Polls indicate that voters don't believe that Republicans want to simply return to Bush-era policies. But Obama is demonstrating quite pointedly that they do, using their own words and their drive to extend all the bush tax cuts (I do wish he'd promise right now to veto any extension for those earning over $250k). There is (I choose to believe) at least a chance for damage control along the order achieved by Reagan in 1982 -- given, too, that bad economic news has moderated a bit over the past week or two. Diapers up, Democrats!
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You said this week that Democrats wouldn’t do well in the November elections if it turns out to be a referendum on the economy. But with millions of people out of work and millions of people losing their homes, how could it not be a referendum on the economy and your handling of it, and why would you not welcome that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the -- what I said was that if it was just a referendum on whether we’ve made the kind of progress that we need to, then people around the country would say we’re not there yet. If the election is about the policies that are going to move us forward versus the policies that will get us back into a mess, then I think the Democrats will do very well. And here’s why.
As I just indicated, middle-class families had been struggling for a decade, before I came into office. Their wages and incomes had flat-lined. They were seeing the cost of everything from health care to sending their kids to college going up. Job growth was the weakest of any economic expansion between 2001 and 2008 since World War II. The pace was slower than it’s been over the last year.
So these policies of cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans, of stripping away regulations that protect consumers, running up a record surplus to a record deficit -- those policies finally culminated in the worst financial crisis we’ve had since the Great Depression. And for 19 months, what we have done is steadily worked to avoid a depression, to take an economy that was contracting rapidly and making it grow again; a situation where we were losing 750,000 jobs a month, and now we’ve had eight consecutive months of private sector job growth; and made investments that are going to strengthen the economy over the long term.
But we’re not there yet. We lost 4 million jobs in the six months before I was sworn in, and we lost 8 million jobs total during the course of this recession. That is a huge hole to dig ourselves out of. And people who have lost their jobs around the country and can’t find one, moms who are sending out resumes and not getting calls back, worried about losing homes and not being able to pay bills -- they’re not feeling good right now. And I understand that.
And I ran precisely because I did not think middle-class families in this country were getting a fair shake. And I ran because I felt that we had to have a different economic philosophy in order to grow that middle class and grow our economy over the long term.
Now, for all the progress we’ve made, we’re not there yet. And that means that people are frustrated and that means people are angry. And since I’m the President and Democrats have controlled the House and the Senate, it’s understandable that people are saying, what have you done.
But between now and November, what I’m going to remind the American people of is that the policies that we have put in place have moved us in the right direction, and the policies that the Republicans are offering right now are the exact policies that got us into this mess. It’s not a situation where they went and reflected, and said to themselves, you know what, we didn’t do some things right and so we’ve got a whole bunch of new ideas out here that we want to present to you that we think are going to help put us on the path of strong growth -- that’s not what happens. The chairman of their committee has said, we would do the exact same things as we did before Obama took office. Well, we know where that led.
And a perfect example is the debate we’re having on taxes right now. I have said that middle-class families need tax relief right now. And I’m prepared to work on a bill and sign a bill this month that would ensure that middle-class families get tax relief. Ninety-seven percent of Americans make less than $250,000 a year -- $250,000 a year or less. And I’m saying we can give those families -- 97 percent permanent tax relief. And by the way, for those who make more than $250,000, they’d still get tax relief on the first $250,000; they just wouldn’t get it for income above that.
Now, that seems like a common-sense thing to do. And what I’ve got is the Republicans holding middle-class tax relief hostage because they're insisting we’ve got to give tax relief to millionaires and billionaires to the tune of about $100,000 per millionaire, which would cost over the course of 10 years, $700 billion, and that economists say is probably the worst way to stimulate the economy. That doesn’t make sense, and that's an example of what this election is all about.
If you want the same kinds of skewed policies that led us to this crisis, then the Republicans are ready to offer that. But if you want policies that are moving us out, even though you may be frustrated, even though change isn’t happening as fast as you’d like, then I think Democrats are going to do fine in November.
Footnote: this happy talk comes in a week in which both Charlie Cook and Nate Silver have hardened their predictions that Democrats will lose the House at least. District-by-district as well as on the generic ballot question, things look very, very bleak for Democrats.