Perhaps student-loan rates weren’t sexy enough for campaign season. Perhaps the Obama campaign wanted to steer the focus away from this week’s ObamaCare barrage in the House. Perhaps the president needed fresh talking points for a week packed with multiple campaign events.
But around 8 a.m. this morning, the White House sent out an update to President Obama’s daily schedule, adding a statement in the East Room around lunchtime on extension of the Bush-era tax cuts — and rustling up his December 2010 fight that led to a two-year extension of the lower rates.
The Tax Relief, Unemployment Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 heralded the beginning of Obama’s refrain that the Bush tax cuts shouldn’t be continued for the upper-income brackets. That war of words culminated in a compromise temporary extension that was panned by both conservatives and liberals — sparking the legendary eight-hour-plus “Filibernie” on the Senate floor by Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Now, just four months out from Election Day and nearly six months away from the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, Obama is reviving that fight in an attempt to paint himself as the candidate who fights for the middle class in the face of millionaire Mitt Romney.
With rows of cheering supporters in front of him and behind him — middle-class families and workers who would benefit from extension of the rates, the White House explained — Obama turned the East Room into a campaign stop and continued the day giving interviews to regional anchors at the White House before heading to closed-door fundraisers at the Mandarin Oriental.
“I believe it’s time to let the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans — folks like myself — to expire,” Obama said to applause from his assembled admirers. “I might feel differently if we were still in surplus. But we’ve got this huge deficit, and everybody agrees that we need to do something about these deficits and these debts. So the money we’re spending on these tax cuts for the wealthy is a major driver of our deficit, a major contributor to our deficit, costing us a trillion dollars over the next decade.”
Vowing that the American people would side with him, the president challenged Congress to send extensions for all but the wealthy to his desk — and continue to debate tax cuts for the highest earners.
“And then next year, once the election is over, things have calmed down a little bit, based on what the American people have said and how they’ve spoken during that election, we’ll be in a good position to decide how to reform our entire tax code in a simple way that lowers rates and helps our economy grow, and brings down our deficit,” Obama said.
“I hope Congress will join me in doing the right thing,” he added from the bully pulpit.
Congress was in no mood to play these campaign games, though.
“President Obama’s demand to raise taxes on hardworking families and small businesses comes on the heels of the worst quarter for job growth in two years. The uncertainty that is plaguing our economy is a direct result of the president’s insistence on massive tax hikes that will further burden our job creators, already suffering under this administration’s failed economic policies,” said Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
He said that later this month House Republicans will counter the president’s latest push for the tax hike with a comprehensive tax reform package, and invited Obama “to join this bipartisan effort so we can get America back to work.”
“A number of prominent Congressional Democrats are opposed to the president’s call for a massive tax hike – even they know the toll that it will take on private sector job growth,” McCarthy said.
But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had been hoping to find middle ground by upping Obama’s tax-cut cut-off from $250,000 to $1 million, quickly backed down from their earlier push, with spokesmen promising that the legislators would be “team players” for the president.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the daily press briefing that they consulted with those leaders who had been advocating the $1 million mark.
“We consult with Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House all the time,” Carney said. “I don’t think it came as a surprise to anyone, Republican or Democrat, in Congress that the president supports extending tax cuts for middle-class Americans.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused Obama of “doubling down on his quixotic call” for hikes that have been rejected by Congress before to buffet the blow from Friday’s weak jobs report.
Boehner also tailored the message seen throughout GOP reactions — that Obama wants to hike taxes on small businesses.
“How will these small business tax hikes create jobs? Even Democratic congressional leaders and former President Clinton have turned their back on this proposal,” Boehner said.
“President Obama needs to learn that when it comes to jobs and the economy ‘leading from behind’ is not good enough.”
“Job creators already face excessive taxation, burdensome regulations and disastrous legislation— like Obamacare — that make doing business in America ever more difficult,” said Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.). “The last thing America’s job creators need is another tax increase from President Obama.”
Obama claimed in his statement that the “job creators” in America wouldn’t be negatively impacted, despite the argument he knew Republicans would put forth.
“They’ll try to explain how this would be bad for small businesses,” Obama said. “…The proposal I make today would extend these tax cuts for 97 percent of all small business owners in America. In other words, 97 percent of small businesses fall under the $250,000 threshold. …I want to give them relief. I want to give those 97 percent a sense of permanence.”
A swing-state senator from the location of Obama’s Friday bus tour — and potential vice presidential pick — was ready to counter that message.
“Additional burdens on families, small businesses and job creators will only make our economy worse,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “Comprehensive tax reform is what we need to give our economy a shot in the arm and give small businesses the certainty and predictability they need to hire workers.”
GOP Senate leadership promptly sent out statistics on “Obama’s Small Business Tax Hike,” including the rundown of 40 Senate Democrats who voted for the tax compromise in 2010 — including Joe Manchin (W.Va.), who’s noticeably skipping September’s Democratic National Convention to focus on home-state campaigning, and vulnerable Dems Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jon Tester (Mont.), and Clarie McCaskill (Mo.), who got a fundraising hand from Vice President Joe Biden today.
“This would be the single biggest tax increase in U.S. history – $850 billion – with much of that on the backs of small businesses which pay through the individual rate,” said Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). “Obama said we shouldn’t do that in late 2010 because the economy was so weak – yet growth is weaker now than then.”
“It also seems clear all those in the middle class can count on a tax increase if Obama is reelected with his limited one-year reprieve.”