In business, chief executives develop plans that they think they can execute. In the Obama White House, a “plan” is apt to be something the president knows that he has no chance of pulling off.
The latest example is the purported plan the president announced Monday to trim $3 trillion from the federal deficit (still running more than $1 trillion a year) over the next 10 years. Half would come from tax increases that President Obama knows he will not get Congress to pass.
Another chunk would come from the wind-down of current military campaigns. The president is apparently certain that military action on a similar scale will be entirely unnecessary for the next decade. The people in charge in Iran, North Korea, Syria and other rogue, proliferating states will be glad to hear that. So will the terrorists and pirates currently plotting mayhem in their hideouts around the Horn of Africa.
There would be some $580 billion of cuts in entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, but the cuts – if they ever happened – would come mainly out of providers’ hides. The president would not bring the Medicare eligibility age back in line with Social Security, so the law would, ridiculously, continue to make me eligible for federal medical care at age 65, even though I could not collect full Social Security benefits until after age 66. And Social Security itself, whose funding source the president already has chosen to raid to jump-start the economy ahead of his re-election, would not be touched at all.
The president somberly intoned that he “will not support any plan” to reduce the deficit that “does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their fair share.” The president and his supporters use the phrases “fair share” and “balanced approach” almost constantly. We can safely assume that this language has scored well in focus group testing. Republicans, for their part, have equally well-tested objections to “job-killing” tax increases and the president’s penchant for “class warfare.”
When we cut through all the smoke, we can find one elemental truth: Obama and his fellow Democrats want all sorts of tax increases on wealthy Americans, except the one that has been theirs for the taking all along.
All they need to do is let the Bush-era tax cuts expire. It would have happened at the end of last year, except that Obama compromised with a Democrat-controlled Congress to extend those cuts for two years. They also reinstated the estate tax at a historically low rate and a large exemption.
So the Bush cuts now are scheduled to expire at the end of next year. Obama need do nothing except wield his veto pen, in the unlikely event that a Republican-sponsored extension even makes it through the Senate. Taxes would go up on the wealthy Americans that the president so badly wants to tax.
Of course, taxes would go up for a huge swath of middle-class America, too. That was the trade-off, shortsighted though it was, of the Bush tax compromise. Reducing the top marginal rates was either was a giveaway to the wealthy or a boon to the economy, depending on your viewpoint. But nearly half of all American households were all but eliminated from the income tax rolls. They still pay Social Security taxes, but those are the taxes that Obama wants to sharply cut next year, even as he assures taxpayers that his Social Security tax holidays will have no impact on their future benefits.
If the Bush tax cuts really tilted unfairly toward the rich, then allowing those tax cuts to expire should undo the unfairness and get us somewhere close to the “fair share” that the president thinks people should pay. Unless, of course, the president thinks a fair share of income taxes for half the households in America is zero.
This is precisely what the president appears to think, because time and again, he rejects his only readily available tax increase. Reversing the Bush tax cuts entirely would restore the direct and visible connection between the costs and the benefits of government. Instead, the president seeks to bury the costs by turning businesses and business owners into his tax collectors. He talks about making these parties bear the burden of closing the government’s mammoth spending gap, even though they will ultimately pass most of the costs on to society at large through reduced hiring and investment, higher prices, and lower wages.
What the president issued yesterday was not a plan for financing and operating the government’s business. It was a campaign brochure, long on promises and rhetoric, and extremely short on deliverables.
The difference between running for president and being president is that, in the first case, you can say you’ll do almost anything without fear of contradiction, since you cannot do anything at all until you take office. But when you already are the president, people can watch what you do – or don’t do – and tune out everything you say to the contrary.
If America is tuning out Obama, it is because what he says he will do and what he actually does have little to do with one another. This, from all appearances, is the president’s plan.