President Obama says that tax increases on those earning more than $250,000 a year are needed to plug holes in the budget. Not extending the Bush-era tax cuts on high-income earners, the president said, would "grow and strengthen the middle class." Obama preempted Republican criticism by arguing that his is a policy supported by the American people — opposition, one assumes, comes from those with Range Rovers and chiffon dresses — something demonstrated in “poll after poll.”
Two small points, and then we’ll round up reaction from clever people around the Web: The American people are quite capable of holding silly ideas, especially when it comes to economic issues. And Obama is right about the polling data: Even a majority of Republicans support raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year. As economist Bryan Caplan has pointed out, America suffers from an epidemic of economic illiteracy. Indeed, he found that “policies economists deplore . . . turn out to be immensely popular with the voters.”
Raising taxes on people who aren’t you is something easily sold to voters, but that doesn’t mean it’s smart economics. And besides, the administration might want to be careful about touting the majority opinions of likely voters in defense of its policies (cough — health care — cough). Then there is this poll, released today by the Hill, showing that “56 percent of likely voters believe Obama’s first term has transformed the nation in a negative way, compared to 35 percent who believe the country has changed for the better under his leadership.”
A few reactions to Obama’s speech. Here’s Douglas Holtz-Eakin, writing at National Review: “Perhaps [Obama] is unaware that the economy is struggling and that no reputable economic research supports the idea that raising taxes is good policy. It might be time for a briefing on the fact that job growth is averaging 75,000 a month in the past quarter, nearly 15 percent of American workers are underemployed, and growth in real disposable income has been minuscule in the Obama ‘recovery.’ ”
Greg Sargent : “Obama’s political imperative is to separate the battle over the Bush tax cut into two fights: one over whether to extend the middle-class tax cuts; and a second one over whether to end the tax cuts on the rich. By contrast, the political imperative of Mitt Romney and Republicans is to do all they can to conflate these two battles, because if the first one were to be resolved, then they’d lose all their leverage in the second one.”
Ezra Klein concludes: “The calculation among Republicans is that once the middle-class tax cuts expire, they’ll lose their leverage on the upper-income tax cuts. The White House’s hope is that that answer won’t be very convincing to voters. The GOP’s bet is that it also won’t be very comforting to the markets.”
And considering my nit-picking of election coverage today, let’s look at how two cable news networks reported Obama’s tax announcement? The headline on the CNN home page: “Obama calls for tax cut extensions.” True. And over at Foxnews.com: “The Tax Man Cometh?” Also true!