Having finally stumbled across the finish line and secured the Democratic nomination Barack Obama hit the road this week with an economic tour to convince voters he is not a traditional tax and spend liberal. This will be tough because he likes tax increases and spending the tax payers’ money and is very liberal.
The McCain team, anticipating Obama’s offensive, kicked off the week with this statement:
“While hardworking families are hurting and employers are vulnerable, Barack Obama has promised higher income taxes, Social Security taxes, capital gains taxes, dividend taxes, and tax hikes on job creating businesses. In fact, during just three years in the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama has already voted 94 times for higher taxes. Barack Obama doesn’t understand the American economy and that’s change we just can’t afford.”
It is hard to believe there were 94 opportunities to raise taxes, but apparently Obama made the most of his brief time in the Senate. It is difficult to find a tax increase Obama did not support. The list includes coal and natural gas taxes (which will no doubt make him even less popular among working class voters, if that is possible, in West Virginia and Pennsylvania), a windfall oil profits tax, the payroll tax, and income taxes (to rates above the Clinton era and affecting taxpayers making as little as $31,850 for individuals and $63,700 for married couples).
As for spending, Obama has been silent on what government programs he would reduce or eliminate. But he has many ideas on how to spend money: health care, education at all levels, subsidies for energy companies, and bailouts for irresponsible homeowners (who bought more house than they could afford). This suggests billions and billions in new spending.
As for budget reform, Obama is no stranger to pork barrel spending, having clocked in with $740 million in earmarks in just three years. He made sure that his wife’s employer ($1M) and the organization run by hate monger Father Michael Pfleger ($225,000) were on the list. And the monstrous $300 billion farm bill (filled with subsidies for millionaire and corporate farms) and the 2005 highway bill with the infamous Bridge to Nowhere? He voted for them both.
Then there is trade. Despite his sophisticated, worldly outlook and childhood abroad, which he claims has prepared him for the presidency, Obama’s trade policy does not seem very friendly to our trading partners oversees. Rather, it seems eerily reminiscent of the 1920’s, another time when the economy hovered on the brink of recession before being pushed over the edge by the Smoot-Hawley tariff in 1930.
Obama, of course, competed with Hillary Clinton throughout the primaries for the title of “Most Protectionist Economic Pandering.” It seems that he won hands down, despite the efforts of his economic advisor Austan Goolsbee to assure the Canadians that he really was lying to the voters.
Obama may have tipped his hand with a Monday announcement of his economic tour. His campaign explained that he would “provide opportunity to working families who are struggling and restore fairness and balance to our economy.” The “fairness and the balance” is code for “tax increase,” you see. And the spending? Again, his campaign offered to “provide relief to struggling homeowners, affordable health care and college for all.” There was no price tag mentioned.
There actually was one area where he seems anxious to scrimp: Iraq war funding. That, is seems, is where he plans to get money for a bevy of new projects. Again, his campaign revealed:
“Instead of a blank check to fight an endless war in Iraq, Obama will end this war, restore our military, finish the fight with al Qaeda, and invest some of those dollars to put millions of Americans to work rebuilding our roads and bridges, laying down new rail lines and new broadband, and making sure that all of America can compete and win in the 21st Century.”
And if Al Qaeda runs wild in Iraq after a precipitous withdrawal and our troops must be reinserted at greater cost (and risk) will those funds from “new rail lines and new broadband” be redirected to fund needed military action? Not clear, but highly likely.
In a speech in North Carolina Obama seemed to be running against George W. Bush, critiquing his economic plans and making the argument that McCain would be more of the same. Obama argued that McCain “calls himself a fiscal conservative and on the campaign trail he’s passionate critic of government spending, and yet he has no problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for big corporations and a permanent occupation of Iraq — policies that have left our children with a mountain of debt.” He was candid that he intends to spend plenty of money, explaining: “I think it’s time we invested in our roads and schools and bridges and started to rebuild America. Instead of handing out giveaways to corporations that don’t need them and didn’t ask for them, it’s time we started giving a hand-up to families who are trying pay their medical bills and send their children to college.”
He was honest about the long list of taxes he envisions, from “shut[ting] down the corporate loopholes and tax havens” to a “tax on [oil companies’]windfall profits” to forcing “the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share” of social security taxes. No explanation, however, was forthcoming to explain that despite his promises for “middle class” tax relief he had raised takes on those making less than $32,000.
And of course, despite his ranking as the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate he denied that his plans were “left or right — liberal or conservative.”
In a conference call following Obama’s speech McCain senior economic advisor Doug Holtz-Eakin reminded the media that it was Obama not McCain who voted for the 2005 energy bill chocked full of corporate welfare and tax goodies for oil companies.
Now despite his finely crafted economic tour to inveigh against the horrors of the George W. Bush economic record and the evil lobbyists who control Washington, Obama’s effort was thrown sharply off message when it was revealed that James Johnson, whom he appointed to his VP search committee, was the recipient of sweetheart reduced rate loans from the Democrats favorite demon: Countrywide Financial Corporation. Johnson, of course, was head of the financially and ethically challenged Fannie Mae and was responsible for stunts such as hiring lobbyists to arrange tax exemptions for Fannie Mae’s profits and pocketing a $1.932M bonus, which if the books had been properly kept he would not have received. Holtz-Eakin in the day’s media call did not miss the chance to zing James Johnson for participating in the very corporate give-aways and lobbying Obama condemned.
Tuesday the McCain camp kept up the drumbeat on taxes. In a speech before small business owners McCain enumerated the long lit of tax hikes Obama had in store for them. When, in a interview with CNBC, Obama slipped and offered that he might have to delay some of his planned taxes increases in light of the looming recession, the McCain team pounced, pointing out that even Obama recognized the harmful impact his policies would have on a weak economy.
So it seems that Obama’s plans to hike taxes, increase spending, return to protectionism and bring back questionable characters to the White House combines the worst policies of the last 80 years and the ethics of the Clinton administration. Not exactly new, but it will be a change.