President Obama picks a political fight on taxes

at 06:30 AM ET, 09/19/2011

When President Obama unveils his deficit-reduction plan this morning in the Rose Garden, the proposal sure to draw the most attention is his call for people making $1 million or more to pay more in taxes.


U.S. President Barack Obama makes a speech to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. (Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg)
Obama is touting the proposal as the “Buffett Rule”, an homage to billionaire investor Warren Buffett who has repeatedly insisted the wealthy should be paying more taxes.

And there are (smart) politics everywhere in it. Here’s why.

1. Polling: The numbers on taxing the wealthy are very clear. In a July Washington Post/ABC poll, 72 percent of those tested supported raising taxes on those making $250,000 or more as a means of reducing the debt. And, in an August CNN poll, 62 percent said taxes on the wealthy should be kept high “so the government can use their money for programs to help lower-income people.” In our 50-50 political world, those numbers are as close as you can get to a political slam dunk.

2. Populism: Obama is an awkward populist, at best, but the frame that he and his advisors are putting on this proposal is unmistakably reminiscent of the famous Al Gore (aka “The Goreacle) construct of “the people versus the powerful”. If ever there was a time when populism could sell, it’s now as economic anxiety has combined with widespread distrust with institutions to make most voters feel like David facing down an intractable Goliath every day. Need more evidence of the current power of populism? Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s rise has been fueled by his I-talk-like-regular-people-talk appeal and a background of humble roots that he regularly uses to not only connect with voters but also draw a stark contrast with the more patrician Mitt Romney.

3. Middle class: These earners are, without question, the swing vote of the 2012 presidential election. Households with incomes between $30,000 and $99,000 — our working, if broad, definition of the middle class — comprised 55 percent of the electorate in the 2008 election and will likely represent a similar share in 2012. Winning that group then becomes of paramount importance to Obama’s chances. And at a time when many members of the middle class are feeling more and more squeezed economically, the idea of getting the wealthy to pay more will seem to many of them like a political no-brainer.

Recognizing the political danger inherent in President Obama’s “Buffett Rule” proposal, Republicans came out hard against it during a series of appearances on the Sunday chat shows.

“Class warfare may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics,” said Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday”. “It adds further instability to our system, more uncertainty, and it punishes job creation.”

For Republicans to win the message war on the “Buffett Rule” they must convince the public that this proposal is more about a failed Democratic policy of raising taxes to solve problems (a political winner) than making the wealthy pay their fair share (a political loser).

Make no mistake: President Obama has picked a political fight on the most solid ground on which he has to stand at this turbulent time. Winning it would help turn around his political fortunes as the calendar turns to 2012.

Fixbits:

Bloomberg TV anchor Phillip Yin (R) says he will challenge Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

Bill Clinton blames the Democrats’ New York special election loss on Israel and the economy.

Herman Cain says he’s got big names working on his economic policies. He just won’t say who they are.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) says the winner of the Florida straw poll this week will win the White House in 2012. Seriously. It’s that important.

Ron Paul wins another straw poll.

Rick Perry and his wife have billed $294,000 for security detail on out-of-state trips since November.

Haley Barbour stumps for Republican governor candidate Bill Maloney in West Virginia.

Members of Congress from California are waiting not-so-patiently for Rep. Elton Gallegly (R) to decide whether he’ll seek reelection.

Mitt Romney visits with The Donald.

The National Republican Congressional Committee launches an ad against Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), who is in big trouble thanks to a GOP-draft redistricting plan.

Freshman Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) emerges as a potential candidate to face Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

Must-reads:

Ohio congressional redistricting could lead to interesting election matchups” — Sabrina Eaton, Cleveland Plain-Dealer

Even as Virginia Gov. McDonnell rides high, tests loom” — Robert McCartney, Washington Post

Ex-staffers say Bachmann has to do it her way” — Kevin Diaz, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

For Obama, another September of discontent” — Dan Balz, Washington Post

Republican front-runners Mitt Romney, Rick Perry come from different worlds” — Philip Rucker, Washington Post

Read more on PostPolitics.com

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Ryan: Obama’s tax plan ‘class warfare’

Another autumn of Obama discontent

 
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