Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Obama's Tax Plan Puts Middle Class In Spotlight Again

Georgia Logothetis on Tue Jul 10, 2012


A lot of ink was used these last couple of days writing about the wealthy at Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's mega-donor retreat last weekend. Now it's time to talk about the middle class again.

Yesterday, President Obama urged an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class while arguing that the tax cuts for wealthy Americans should expire. Here's the pundit reaction to his proposal.

The New York Times Editorial Board looks at President Obama's plan to extend tax cuts for middle class families:

In calling for cooperation from Congress, Mr. Obama said that the point is to “agree to do what we agree on”: extend the middle-class tax cuts. As a matter of fairness and responsible policy making, he said, the majority of Americans, and the broader economy, should not be held hostage again to another debate over the merits of tax cuts for the wealthy.

Unfortunately, it is not a message Congressional Republicans want to hear, committed as they are to preserving tax cuts for the rich at all costs. It is not even what some Democratic leaders want to hear, including Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader and Senator Charles Schumer of New York, both of whom voiced support on Monday for Mr. Obama’s approach but have advocated in the past for extending the tax cuts for households that earn up to $1 million a year, a level that would please wealthy campaign donors.

But it’s a message that needs to be sent, loud and clear, over and over.

The Chicago Sun-Times:
[Obama's plan] would keep more money in the pockets of middle-class Americans, whose spending provides a direct boost to the economy, while generating $850 billion in revenues over 10 years. That’s money desperately needed to fund a host of worthy programs, from student loans to the military, without adding to the federal deficit.

Republicans say it would be a mistake to raise taxes on anyone, even on multimillionaires, at a time when the economy is so weak, and we might agree if the alternative were not worse. But we can’t imagine an America where money for education, for example, is slashed to nothing while Warren Buffett’s billions go untouched.

We also find it curious that this general GOP worry — the danger of slowing spending during hard times — fails to discourage them from chopping mightily at government spending. Too many Republicans on Capitol Hill, we fear, are doing the bidding of their billionaire benefactors or are captive to Grover Norquist’s mindless no-tax pledge.

Dana Milbank at The Washington Post:
President Obama is a reluctant populist.  [...] His reelection campaign has doubled its effort to allow the George W. Bush-era tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest Americans — a policy that should be an easy sell to the remaining 98 percent of Americans. But where he needs to be fiery and passionate, he stood in a business suit behind a lectern in the executive mansion, making a presentation that was almost apologetic.

He presented an argument that would appeal to political strategists: “The American people are with me on this. Poll after poll shows that’s the case.” [...] Obama launched his new offensive in a defensive posture, anticipating the Republican criticism and trying to defend against it.

“They’ll say that we can’t tax ‘job creators,’ and they’ll try to explain how this would be bad for small businesses,” he said. He made sure everybody knew that he “cut taxes for small-business owners 18 times” and that he wouldn’t raise taxes on “97 percent of all small-business owners in America.” [...]

So if the wealthy are going to accuse Obama of class warfare, he might as well do something to merit the charge. “Always take the offensive,” the legendary populist Huey Long said. “The defensive ain’t worth a damn.”

Ezra Klein, also at The Washington Post:
If Obama signed his name onto the upper-income tax cuts in the months before the election, it would effectively take tax rates on the rich off the table in the election, as both parties will agree on the issue, at least through 2013. But with its announcement today, the Obama campaign signaled that that’s not going to happen. And that means no clarity for the market on how — or whether — the fiscal cliff will be resolved until after November.

Some economists think the economy can weather the uncertainty — at least through to the election. ”It’s July now, and early November is soon,” says Wolfers, a visiting professor at Princeton. “While I can see the fiscal cliff having an effect on financial markets and on confidence fairly quickly, it’s hard to see that effect having much of an effect on the real economy prior to the election. Given that, if all you cared about were electoral math, it would make sense to go for the populist policy choice now.”

Konrad Yakabuski at the Globe & Mail:
Mr. Obama moved on Monday to revive his push for higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans, making the proposal a key plank of his re-election strategy. It marked a new offensive in his attempt to cast Republican nominee Mitt Romney as a ruthless corporate raider whose policies would protect the rich. Mr. Romney is against all tax increases.

While Mr. Obama’s position is not new, he had not pushed it much in recent months. By suddenly making income inequality a key part of his re-election strategy, Mr. Obama may be hoping to take the focus off a stubbornly high unemployment rate and discontent over his health-care overhaul, both of which have dominated the news in recent weeks.

The tax plan also provides a unifying theme for his campaign. Some Democrats had complained that it had been lacking as the President centred most of his efforts on wooing selected segments of the electorate, such Latinos, gays and single women.

Tamara Keith at NPR:
Much of the political focus when discussing the Bush-era tax cuts is on the wealthy, but they're not the only ones who would be affected if the tax cuts are allowed to expire at the end of this year.

The vast majority of American taxpayers would take a hit, including Randi Cartmill and her husband Josh Walling who live in Madison, Wis., with their three children.

The family's household income hovers a little below the national median, in the $40,000 to $50,000 range. Cartmill says the tax cuts have helped the family's bottom line.

"Small businesses who are struggling to make payroll and working families who have tightened their belts to meet their budgets cannot afford to be hit with a massive tax increase come January," Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said.

Democrats say that line of attack is misleading, pointing out that 97 percent of small businesses would not be hit, according to nonpartisan congressional estimates.

Also, mega law firms and hedge funds are part of that category - not exactly sympathetic figures for Republicans looking to portray Obama as a job killer ahead of the November 6 election.

Joshua Green at Bloomberg Businessweek:
As the GOP primaries revealed, Romney has a strange compulsion to talk about his wealth in unbecoming ways: joking to a group of unemployed people, for instance, that he, too, is unemployed. James Fallows dubbed this Romney’s “gaffe Tourettes.”

More often, though, Romney invokes his wealth as a political defense in a way that’s clearly intentional and no less unattractive. Questions about everything from his business practices at Bain Capital to the problem of growing income inequality are routinely met with the claim that people are just jealous of all his money. A good example is this Today Show interview with Matt Lauer wherein Romney dismisses Lauer’s questions about income inequality as “very envy-oriented” and a matter best discussed in “private rooms.”

Wealthy presidents from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush were far more gracious and thoughtful about the subject of their wealth, and, not coincidentally, more successful politically than Romney has been when speaking about his own.