A variety of commentators and news outlets are responding to Obama’s new approach — his vow to take his jobs bill to the country, his call for tax hikes to be included in the deficit package, his veto threat — by reductively insisting that it’s only about winning back Democrats.
Politico today is a case in point, insisting that his plan reads “like a blueprint for shoring up his restless Democratic base.” There’s been tons of other chatter along these lines today.
The unstated assumption here is that Obama’s policies — in particular hiking taxes on the wealthy and corporations — couldn’t possibly have any appeal to the middle of the country.
Why are folks so reluctant to embrace the obvious truth that a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts to reduce the deficit is the mainstream American position? Bruce Bartlett recently compiled a list of some two dozen polls all showing support for a combo of cuts and tax increases.
As Andrew Sullivan succintly put it: “What the president proposed this morning is simply where the American people are at.”
What’s more, as many of these commentators and reporters know from their own reporting, the White House is also explicitly betting that the new approach is the best way to win back not just Democrats, but independents, too. As it happens, independents strongly back tax increases on the wealthy. CNN recently found that 62 percent of independents think the supercommittee should help close the deficit by hiking taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Gallup recently found that 64 percent of independents favor increasing taxes on the rich as a way to reduce Federal debt.
The Republican response to such polling is generally dismissive. Even if those polls show public support for high-end tax cuts, Republicans are happy to target Democrats on the issue, because they can continue to fling the general cahrge that Dems are tax-hikers, furthering the narrative of profligate Big Government liberals running off the spending rails, a narrative Republicans believe is very potent with independents. There’s something to this argument. But Obama's new proposal for a “Buffett Rule” — requiring millionaires to pay a higher tax rate than middle income folks — is explicitly about dealing with this problem. It’s about drawing a sharper line that will be harder for Republicans to blur. It’s about winning back independents.
That’s why Chuck Schumer, a longtime proponent of drawing the line at $1 million to give Dems a cleaner message that will have more appeal to moderates and independents, is now calling for the Buffett rule to come to a Senate vote. More broadly, while indys voice strong disapproval of Obama on the economy, they broadly support his actual fiscal policies, and Obama’s team thinks they can be won back by an aggressive and proactive campaign highlighting GOP obstruction of those policies.
To claim that this is all about winning back just Democrats is to misstate the nature of the bet the White House has made. It’s a bet on where the true middle of the country lies.