The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Why Doesn’t Obama Come Right Out and Say, ‘Democrats Want to Raise Taxes’?

Posted on | July 2, 2011 | 24 Comments

There is a cynical saying among political strategists on Capitol Hill: “Do we want the bill or do we want the issue”? That is to say, is it to our advantage to pass legislation to address a specific issue, or is it to our advantage to keep the issue alive as a controversy going into the next election campaign? If all you care about is gaining political advantage, that’s how you think about such matters, and this seems to me what President Obama is doing with the current budget debate:

President Obama used his weekly address to reiterate his demand for ending tax breaks for “millionaires and billionaires” in any budget deal to raise the nation’s debt limit.
“It would be nice if we could keep every tax break, but we can’t afford them,” Obama said. “Because if we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, or for hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners, or for oil and gas companies pulling in huge profits without our help — then we’ll have to make even deeper cuts somewhere else.”

Watch the video of his weekly address:

Obama knows — or at least, he ought to know — that ending the “tax breaks” he talks about so vaguely would contribute a neglible amount of revenue in terms of shrinking a $1.4-trillion annual deficit. Furthermore, because the policy he advocates would be a disincentive to investment, it might extend the recession and actually decrease federal tax revenue.

Now let’s drop the president’s political euphemisms about ending “tax breaks” and instead speak the plain truth: President Obama wants to raise taxes.

Or does he?

There is ample reason to doubt Obama’s sincerity when we remember that, during the lame-duck session of Congress — when Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats were still in the majority — Obama signed into law a measure extending the Bush tax cuts until 2013.

If the president was willing to continue “tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires” when Democrats controlled Congress, why is he now insisting that these “breaks” must be ended?

In terms of the wisdom or equity of the policy, nothing has changed in the past seven months, and we can only conclude that the president’s shift is not a matter of policy, but of politics.

That is to say, Obama knows damned well that the House of Representatives is never going to agree to any tax increase under any imaginable circumstance. The GOP just won a mid-term landslide after a campaign fought straight-up on this policy terrain. Nothing could be more clear than that House Republicans owe their majority to voters who rejected the deficit-spending Keynesian “stimulus” policies enacted by Obama and congressional Democrats during the first two years of the current administration. And the voters who rejected Pelosi’s Democrats certainly did not do so with the idea that Republicans would raise taxes. No, the GOP’s 2010 mandate was to rein in the out-of-control spending, and this they are honor-bound to do if they are truly to be representatives of the people who elected them.

Obama’s current demand for tax increases is in direct contradiction to the public will as expressed in what he called his “shellacking,” an electoral verdict he acknowledged and accepted in December when he signed into law the extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Why, then, has the president resorted to the “tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires” theme six months later? In a word, politics.

Obama is employing this class-warfare rhetoric for two purposes: First, to excite his own political base, and second, to portray Republicans as unreasonable extremists beholden to wealthy special interests.

This entire debate over the debt-ceiling increase has been unnecessarily extended by the president because, as my cynical friends on Capitol Hill would say, Democrats don’t want the bill, they want the issue. Rather than trying to reach an agreement on the size and nature of spending cuts, Obama and Senate Democratic leaders have insisted on tax increases knowing full well that no such increases can ever pass the House.

And Obama has repeatedly used his bully pulpit to frame this issue in class-warfare terms so that when Senate Democrats refuse to compromise, the pre-planned failure to pass a debt-ceiling increase can be blamed on Republican favoritism to “the rich.”

Obama and the Democrats are trying to orchestrate a re-enactment of the 1995-96 budget showdown between Clinton and the GOP Congress for the specific political purpose of setting up Obama’s re-election campaign as a choice between the “reasonable” president and those ideological fanatics, the Republicans.

This debt-ceiling debate is a Kabuki dance, a dramatic pageant scripted by Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) with complete foreknowledge of the outcome: There will be no default on the debt, nor will there be any tax increases. The entire thing is being staged for the purpose of giving Obama a platform to repeat his “tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires” mantra as if this were actually the issue at stake, which it is not.

How can Republicans “win” this? Simple: Speak truth to power.

If Republicans will loudly and repeatedly describe the cynical nature of Obama’s rhetoric, and point out to voters the vast chasm of insincerity that separates what Obama says he wants (higher taxes on the rich) from what Obama eventually knows he will do (sign a debt-ceiling agreement that doesn’t include any tax increases), they can turn the president’s rhetoric against him: “Do Democrats want to increase taxes? Yes or no, Mr. President? Because Democrats had the chance to increase taxes last year, and didn’t do it.”

What the American people want is jobs, jobs, jobs, and you can’t promote economic recovery by hiking taxes on the private corporations which are the only entities that can create those jobs. That’s why Obama never pushed Democrats to increase taxes even when they held an insuperable congressional majority.

Obama can’t win this debate on honest terms and he knows it. If Republicans will call out the president on the cynical dishonesty of his rhetoric, he’ll be forced to abandon it, and a reasonable package of federal spending reductions can be enacted as part of the debt-ceiling agreement.

Let the calling-out begin.

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What You Can Do

If you agree with the logic of the foregoing argument, why don’t you copy it in an e-mail and send it to your Republican representative, senator, governor or state GOP chairman? You can also e-mail it to your favorite local or national talk radio host, or Republican presidential candidates (who certainly have an incentive to point out Obama’s cynical tactics). Also, by using the “share” button at the bottom of the post, you can share it via Twitter or post it to Facebook. Thanks in advance for your help in spreading the word. — RSM


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