Monday, September 19, 2011

The arguments haven't changed, but the opponent is named

Greg Sargent cheers Obama's newfound fighting spirit:
This has to be the clearest sign yet that Obama has taken a very sharp populist turn as he seeks to frame the contrast between the parties heading into 2012. During his remarks this morning, Obama directly responded to Republicans accusing him of “class warfare,” but rather than simply deny the charge, he made the critical point that the act of protecting tax cuts for the rich is itself class warfare, in effect positioning himself as the defender of the middle class against GOP class warriors on behalf of the wealthy.
Sargent has put his finger on the key difference between Obama today and Obama this summer: direct confrontation.  It's worth noting that Obama's arguments have not changed -- nor really have his proposed policies. All through the summer, he argued repeatedly tht deficit reduction had to be "balanced," that it was unfair to ask people to accept reduction in Medicare and Social Security without asking "millionaires and billionaires" to "pay their fair share" via higher taxes. He won that argument in the court of public opinion but lost the negotiation that produced the debt ceiling deal.   Moreover, in his deficit reduction plan in April, Obama called for Medicare cost savings broadly similar to those proposed today. According to Ezra Klein, he called for roughly the same amount of increased tax revenue over today's rates -- $1.5 trillion over twelve years -- as he did today -- though the language in the plan outline was studiously vague and I never could see how it amounted to more than $1 trillion over twelve years, i.e., the amount gained by letting the Bush cuts for the top 2% expire. 

The differences today are twofold. One is situational. Obama's problem in the summer was not a matter of rhetoric -- it was letting himself get sucked into negotiations end-stopped by the debt ceiling deadline, and signalling that he would blink at the brink, as he did. His busted "grand bargain" with Boehner was lambasted as giving up half the field at the outset, but it was actually supposed to be the endgame, not the starting point of negotiations. Its spending cut/tax hike ratio was about halfway between where Obama started today 2-to-1 -- and the Republican maximalist position, no revenue increases. The busted Boehner deal is one that Obama might still take -- to the consternation of progressives like Jonathan Chait, who denounced it as a terrible deal, with far too small a revenue component.

The other difference is simple but transformative. Now Obama is calling out the Republicans by name, instead of setting off his reasonable and balanced approach against opposition from "Washington" or "Congress."  The direct confrontation started last week, in his speech unveiling the jobs bill, and continued today. He is characterizing and criticizing specifics in the Republican position and attributing them both to the party and to individuals, e.g., Boehner. And he is refuting their characterizations of his positions. Sargent reports that part of the passage in which did this most strikingly  was apparently ad-libbed:
Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. There’s no justification for it. 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...

We’re already hearing the usual defenders of these kinds of loopholes saying, “this is just class warfare.” I reject the idea that asking a hedge fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare. I think it’s just the right thing to do. I believe the American middle class, who’ve been pressured relentlesly for decades, believe it’s time that they were fought for as hard as the lobbyists and some lawmakers have fought to protect special treatment for billionaires and big corporations.

Nobody wants to punish success in America ... All I’m saying is, that those who have done well, including me, should pay our fair share in taxes to contribute to the nation that made our success possible.
Then too, as he did last week, Obama alluded directly, if not by name, to Grover Norquist's no-new-taxes-ever pledge:
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. Anybody who says we can’t change the tax code to correct that, anyone who has signed some pledge to protect every single tax loophole so long as they live, they should be called out. They should have to defend that unfairness -- explain why somebody who's making $50 million a year in the financial markets should be paying 15 percent on their taxes, when a teacher making $50,000 a year is paying more than that -- paying a higher rate. They ought to have to answer for it. And if they’re pledged to keep that kind of unfairness in place, they should remember, the last time I checked the only pledge that really matters is the pledge we take to uphold the Constitution.
 He also confronted Boehner directly, quoting and rebutting:
You know, last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner gave a speech about the economy. And to his credit, he made the point that we can’t afford the kind of politics that says it’s “my way or the highway.” I was encouraged by that. Here’s the problem: In that same speech, he also came out against any plan to cut the deficit that includes any additional revenues whatsoever. He said -- I'm quoting him -- there is “only one option.” And that option and only option relies entirely on cuts. That means slashing education, surrendering the research necessary to keep America’s technological edge in the 21st century, and allowing our critical public assets like highways and bridges and airports to get worse. It would cripple our competiveness and our ability to win the jobs of the future. And it would also mean asking sacrifice of seniors and the middle class and the poor, while asking nothing of the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.

So the Speaker says we can’t have it "my way or the highway," and then basically says, my way -- or the highway. (Laughter.) That’s not smart. It’s not right. If we’re going to meet our responsibilities, we have to do it together
And in what's quickly become the speech's most famous passage, he drew the old distinction between the reality-based community and faith-based policymaking:
This is not class warfare. It’s math. (Laughter.) The money is going to have to come from someplace. And if we’re not willing to ask those who've done extraordinarily well to help America close the deficit and we are trying to reach that same target of $4 trillion, then the logic, the math says everybody else has to do a whole lot more: We’ve got to put the entire burden on the middle class and the poor. We’ve got to scale back on the investments that have always helped our economy grow. We’ve got to settle for second-rate roads and second-rate bridges and second-rate airports, and schools that are crumbling.

Perhaps the speech was not only add-libbed to a degree, but rewritten at the last minute. TPM has a transcript of prepared remarks that were never delivered. They are bloodless by comparison -- no mention of Republican positions, no rebuttal.  I've pasted it below, in case it's quietly replaced by the speech the President actually delivered.

Full transcript of President Obama's "Buffett Tax" address, as prepared for delivery:
This continues to be a time of challenge for our country. We face an economic crisis that has left millions of our neighbors jobless, and a political crisis that has made things worse. Millions of Americans are looking for work. Across our country, families are doing their best just to scrape by -- giving up nights out with the family to save on gas or make the mortgage, or postponing retirement to send a child to college.

These men and women grew up with faith in an America where hard work and responsibility paid off. They believed in a country where everyone gets a fair shake and does their fair share; they believed that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you would be rewarded with a decent salary and good benefits. If you did the right thing, you could make it in America.

For decades now, Americans have watched that compact erode. They have seen the decks too often stacked against them. And they know that Washington has not always put their interests first. Too often, our Nation's capital has been consumed by partisanship. Too often, the needs of special interests or politics have been put ahead of what is best for the country.

That is what must change. The American people work hard to meet their responsibilities. Now, as the Nation faces an economy that is not growing and creating jobs as it should, so must its leaders. While the continued recovery of our economy will be driven by the businesses and workers across our land, policymakers in Washington can take steps to help Americans right now and set the most favorable conditions we can for growth and job creation for years to come. We can live within our means and invest for the future.
That is why last week I presented to the Congress and the American people the American Jobs Act, to provide a jolt to the economy and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services. This jobs bill will put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed. It will provide a tax break for companies that hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. It will create jobs for people to rebuild our aging infrastructure and repair and modernize at least 35,000 schools. Moreover, the proposals in the American Jobs Act are the kind of proposals that have been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past.
I am committed to paying for this jobs bill. The Budget Control Act that I signed into law last month will cut annual Government spending by about $1 trillion over the next 10 years. It also charges the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction with finding an additional $1.5 trillion in savings. As part of this jobs bill, I am asking the Congress to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act. In addition, I believe that the Congress should seize the opportunity that this new Committee presents and do much more so that we can put the country on a sustainable fiscal path, which is critical for our long-term economic growth and competitiveness.
For this reason, I am sending to the Congress this detailed plan to pay for this jobs bill and realize more than $3 trillion in net deficit reduction over the next 10 years. Combined with the approximately $1 trillion in savings from the first part of the Budget Control Act, this would generate more than $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade. This would bring the Nation to the point where current spending is no longer adding to our debt and where our debt is no longer increasing as a share of our economy -- an important milestone on the way to restoring fiscal discipline and moving us toward balance.
This plan is a balanced one that asks everyone to do their part. It includes nearly $580 billion in cuts and reforms to mandatory programs of which $320 billion is savings from Federal health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. These changes are necessary to maintain the promise of Medicare as we know it.
The plan also realizes more than $1 trillion in savings over the next 10 years from our drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the plan calls for the Congress to undertake comprehensive tax reform that lowers tax rates, closes loopholes, boosts job creation here at home, cuts the deficit by $1.5 trillion, and observes the Buffett Rule -- that people making more than $1 million a year should not pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than middle-class families pay.
To assist the Committee in its work, I also included specific tax loophole closers and measures to broaden the tax base. Together with the expiration of the high-income tax cuts from 2001 and 2003, these measures would be more than enough to reach this $1.5 trillion target. They include cutting tax preferences for high-income households, eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies, closing the carried interest loophole for investment fund managers, and eliminating benefits for those who use corporate jets.
In sum, the plan I am sending to the Congress today is a blueprint for how we can reduce this deficit, pay down our debt, and pay for the American Jobs Act in the process. I have little doubt that some of these proposals will not be popular with those who benefit from these affected programs. And some of these changes are ones that we would not make if it were not for our fiscal situation. But we are all in this together, and all of us must contribute to getting our economy moving again and on a firm fiscal footing.
After all, we are all connected. No single individual built America on his or her own. We built it together. We have been, and always will be, "one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." We have always been a people with responsibilities to ourselves and with responsibilities to one another. This means that as Americans work hard to find a job, keep their businesses afloat and grow, and provide for their kids, their representatives in Washington must meet their responsibilities and make the tough choices needed to get our economy back on track.
This plan lives up to a simple idea: as a Nation, we can live within our means while still making the investments we need to prosper. It follows a balanced approach: asking everyone to do their part, so no one has to bear all the burden. And it says that everyone -- including millionaires and billionaires -- has to pay their fair share.
These may be tough times for our country, but I have a deep faith in the American spirit, and we are tougher than the times we live in and bigger than the politics we have recently seen. If we all put partisanship aside and roll up our sleeves, I have no doubt that we can meet the challenges of the moment and show the world once again why the United States of America remains the greatest country on Earth.

No comments:

Post a Comment