The primary goal of President Obama’s presser, which just wrapped up, was obvious: He was clearly out to pick a major public fight with Republicans over tax cuts for the rich. Obama mounted a surprisingly aggressive moral case for ending high end tax cuts, casting it as a test of our society’s priorities, and argued — crucially — that anyone who fails to support ending them is fundamentally unserious about the deficit.
He also went out of his way to highlight GOP opposition to raising revenues by ending a perk for corporate jet owners. This proposal would raise only $3 billion, which means it’s trivial in the larger scheme of things, and Obama’s mention of it seemed deliberately designed to provoke howls of outrage and cries of “class warfare” from Republicans — with the obvious goal of maneuvering Republicans into the role of arch defenders of the interests of the wealthy.
Obama is picking this fight in order to reframe the deficit and debt ceiling debate as a battle not over government spending — losing turf for Dems — but over who has the most balanced priorities and who is really working in the interests of the whole country.
Here’s the key quote, which mentions the corporate jet tax break no less than three times:
If we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we keep the tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we’ve got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship. That means we have to stop funding certain grants for medical research. That means that food safety may be compromised. That means that Medicare has to bear a greater part of the burden. These are the choices we have to make...
The Republicans say they want to reduce the deficit. Every single observer who’s not an elected official or politican says we can’t reduce our deficit in the scale and scope we need to without having a balanced approach that looks at everything. Democrats have to accept some painful spending cuts that hurt some of our consituencies that we may not like. And we’ve shown a willingness to do that for the greater good...
If you are a wealthy CEO or hedge fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they’ve ver been. They’re lower than they’ve been since the 1950s. And you can afford it. You’ll still be able to ride on your corporate jet. You’ll just have to pay a little more...My believe is that the Republican leadership in Congress will hopefully sooner rather than later come to the conclusion that they need to make the right decisions for the country, that everybody else has been willing to move off their maximalist position. They need to do the same. My expectation is that they’ll do the responsible thing.
In another key moment, Obama seemed to draw a line against cost-shifting to seniors to solve the Medicare problem. He said:
We’re gonna have to look at entitlements. And that’s always difficult politically. But I’ve been willing to say we need to see where we can reduce the cost of health care spending and Medicare and Medicaid in the out years. Not by shifting costs on to seniors, as some have proposed, but rather by actually reducing those costs.
While there’s good reason for skepticism that the final deal won’t contain some kind of cost shifting, it was good to hear Obama lay down that marker in those terms.
More broadly, Obama stopped just short of saying he would not accept a final deficit deal without a high end tax hike. But his presser made it clear that he will will relitigate this fight and make it central to the campaign. And while we should keep in mind that Obama did ultimately cut a deal on the high-end tax cuts last time around, those who are hoping he will continue to make a strong moral argument in favor of ending them should be pleased by what they heard.