This time last week, President Obama gave his State of the Union. It seems like a lot longer ago than that because the speech basically went unnoticed by the time the weekend came around. Reactions were mixed, but the chief criticism seems to be that the speech amounted to little more than several popular and small proposals. Krauthammer, Brooks and others were unsatisfied by the lack of grandeur that once characterized Obama’s policy oriented rhetoric.
But the reality is that any large scale mandate is out of the question at this point. It would end up being opposed by Republicans out of the spirit of turning Obama into a one term president by making him look legislatively impotent and it would work. Any large enough piece of legislation would have something in that could be labeled as unforgivably objectionable and Republicans would harp on it or they would just lie (death panels! – Politifact’s lie of the year).
What Obama has done is exactly what he should be doing. Despite what my crush over at ABC (Amy Walter) thinks, this was Clintonian triangulation at its finest. Obama is trying to make it as difficult as possible for the GOP to claim ideological differences to bills as possible. This way, when the Republicans attempt to prevent a entirely agreeable bill (e.g., The Puppies Are Cute 2012 bill) from passing Mitch McConnell will have a hard time claiming that it is socialism or otherwise ideologically objectionable. More than anything, Obama needs to show leadership, action and progress… this comes from congress passing bills. One deal can lead to a second and a third.
So yes, he is starting this new legislative “age” with what should be relatively easy stuff.
The proposals that he has suggested are unquestionably bi-partisan and have genuine support from both sides. In fact, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (a Republican who was on the super committee) said, “Like most of the other speeches, I find myself agreeing with about 80 percent of what he says, but disagreeing with about 80 percent of what he does.” While I’m not sure about the second half of that quote, the first half, at the very least, demonstrates agreement on the broad strokes. Most notable are Obama’s long standing proposals concerning tax reform.
Klein points out in Mitch Daniel’s response he actually flat out agreed with Obama’s proposal to cut tax exemptions from the wealthy. You might be wondering how that does not count as class warfare…I don’t know either. Nonetheless, this is a great first step towards equity in the tax code and such a move would bring in an estimated non-trivial amount of 30 billion dollars a year; that’s to say nothing of what might be gained by closing loopholes for major corporations. In fact, a study concluded that if the government was able to make evasion (/avoidance) impossible top tax rates could be raised over to nearly 83% without impacting the economy. That’s probably not completely accurate (nor possible), but it suggests that the impact Obama’s “Buffett tax” on the economy is not nearly as horrible as many Republicans are suggesting.
But therein lies the slippery slope that the rich and republicans fear. What follows is the real line of thinking that prompts the banal “class warfare” and “soaking the rich” arguments: If we can practically draw the line at 30%, why not 83%? How can government possibly justify TAKING more private property when it is so disagreeably utilized today?
I addressed many these ideas in “Seven Compelling Reasons to Tax the Rich” because they are legitimate and really important questions about personal property and the social contract America wants to have with its most powerful individuals. Indeed, it is dangerous for the government to begin to think that it knows the proper amount of money for people to be earning. The government should not take a tax increase on anyone (even the rich) lightly. We should also recognize that many of the individuals whose income is above 1m do not find themselves in that income group every year. But at the very least, no matter how you earn it, those taking in astonishing sums of money should be paying at least what those taking in significantly less should be paying. We can safely draw the line there. For all 235,413 of you.