President Obama kicked off his push for tax hikes on the rich to cut the deficit, and kicked some ass while he was at it.
Faced with falling poll numbers for his leadership and an anxious party base, Mr. Obama did not just propose but insisted that any long-term debt-reduction plan must not shave future Medicare benefits without also raising taxes on the wealthiest taxpayers and corporations.
He uncharacteristically backed up that stand with a veto threat, setting up a politically charged choice for anti-tax Republicans — protect the most affluent or compromise to attack deficits. Confident in the answers most voters would make, Mr. Obama plans to hammer on that choice through 2012, reflecting the fact that the White House has all but given up hopes of a “grand bargain” with Republicans to restore fiscal balance for years to come.
As expected, the Republicans all chimed in with various versions of “class warfare” while clutching at their pearls and reeling to the fainting couch. And as often happens, Mr. Obama was blessed with the good fortune of having Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) go on TV and claim that he finds it very hard to live on $400,000 a year — not including his $174,000 salary — and whine about being a casualty in the War on Class. (Except for that to happen, you have to have some in the first place.) By the way, for being such a sharp businessman, Mr. Fleming doesn’t get the basics of the tax code. The president is proposing a tax increase on people whose income is over $1 million. If, after all his expenses and business deductions, Mr. Fleming is left with the pittance of $400,000, he doesn’t qualify for the higher tax.
A lot of people are relieved to see the president finally get feisty with the Republicans, myself included, but when you think about it, the timing is pretty good. Not a lot of people were paying a lot of attention to the machinations going on inside the Beltway over the summer; they were worried about more important things like finding a job, keeping the one they have, keeping their house from burning up in the wildfires or being washed away in a flood, or even if Justin Verlander could make it to 20 wins. Now that the Republican primary circus is getting past the opening acts at the state fairs and Rick Perry has perfected his shitkicker twang for prime time, folks are going to start paying attention to this new season of fun and wackiness. If President Obama had started this hard-ass approach back last spring, he would have been doing it far too early for it to have the desired effect. Now that there is a looming deadline of the deficit committee to actually do something, this puts the ball squarely in the GOP court.
Now that the GOP has to play defense for the indefensible — it’s awfully hard to feel the love for someone like yet another millionaire congressman who’s dedicated to keeping every dime for himself — they’re going to have to scramble to explain to the Tea Party how standing up for the stinking rich is a battle for the working class.