Obama in campaign mode over budget
Barack Obama is on the campaign trail again, just three weeks after winning the presidential election. This time he’s reaching “beyond the Beltway” – in the words of his press secretary Jay Carney – to ask average Americans to exert pressure on Republican Congressmen to cooperate in preventing a tax hike on ordinary citizens.
To this end, Mr Obama received small business owners in the White House on Tuesday. He met representatives of the middle class, followed by corporate executives, yesterday, and will visit a Tinkertoys factory in Philadelphia tomorrow.
“Our ultimate goal is an agreement that gets our long-term deficit under control in a way that is fair and balanced,” Mr Obama said, while 15 members of the middle-class stood beside him like props on the White House stage, many of them nodding in agreement.
Mr Obama wants Congress to pass a Bill before Christmas extending Bush-era tax cuts for all families earning less than $250,000 a year. Otherwise, the average family of four will see its taxes increase by $2,200 next year. If Republicans vote for the Bill, “that means 98 per cent of Americans and 97 per cent of small businesses wouldn’t see their income taxes go up by a single dime”, Mr Obama noted.
Call to action
He urged members of the public to call and email members of Congress, post messages on their Facebook walls and tweet them using the hashtag “My2K”. There was, Mr Obama admitted, a certain déjà vu about his speech. “Now I know some of this may sound familiar to you because we talked a lot about this during the campaign,” he said. “This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. This was a major debate in the presidential campaign and in congressional campaigns all across the country.”
Mr Obama feels strengthened in the budget showdown by his election victory and opinion polls. A Washington Post-ABC News survey shows that 60 per cent of Americans want the wealthiest to pay higher taxes. As pointed out by billionaire Warren Buffett in an article in the New York Times, the 400 richest people in the US earned an average income of $202 million – $97,000 an hour – in 2009, on which they paid an average 19.9 per cent in tax.
The Republican representative Tom Cole earlier told a private meeting of Republicans that they should accept Mr Obama’s plan to extend tax cuts for 98 per cent of Americans – without necessarily agreeing to raise taxes on the top 2 per cent. “Some people think holding tax cut extensions for 98 per cent of Americans hostage to an extension for the 2 per cent is our leverage in the debate. It’s the Democrats leverage in the debate,” Mr Cole said.
According to a CNN poll, 45 per cent of Americans will blame Republicans in Congress; 34 per cent Mr Obama, if the US goes off the “fiscal cliff” – hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic tax rises and cuts in government spending – on January 1st, 2013.
Mr Obama alluded to Mr Cole in his speech yesterday, asserting that “more and more Republicans in Congress seem to be agreeing with this idea that we should have a balanced approach”. But the Republican speaker of the House John Boehner condemned Mr Cole’s attempt at conciliation, saying “we’re not going to grow the economy if we raise tax rates on the top two rates”.
In another replay of the presidential campaign, Republican members of Congress are scheduled to visit small businesses nationwide to argue that tax increases on the wealthiest would hurt job creation.
Except for a photograph of Mitt Romney filling his petrol tank in California last week, and the picture he released of himself and his wife Ann in their kitchen at Thanksgiving, the failed presidential candidate had virtually disappeared since the early hours of November 7th.
Mr Romney will lunch with Mr Obama at the White House today, the fulfilment of Mr Obama’s election night promise to “sit down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward”. Some commentators had believed Mr Romney forfeited the invitation when he said Mr Obama won by promising “gifts” to key constituencies, including ethnic minorities.