Less than a month before the election year commences, the White House made it clear yesterday that it was firing an opening salvo at congressional Republicans over the issue of whether to extend the payroll tax cut and pay for it by raising taxes on the highest of American wage-earners.
Coupled with the increasing number of appearances the President has been making in states critical to his reelection next year, the remarks coming from him and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney yesterday were the latest and clearest sign that Obama plans to run a campaign on sheer “us vs. them,” “everyone else vs. rich” class warfare—not just against his eventual Republican opponent, but against Republicans in the House and Senate.
The scene at the White House was all too familiar to those in the press corps who covered the heated debates over whether to extend all or some of the Bush tax cuts a year ago and, earlier this year, over extending the debt ceiling. The President made a surprise appearance at the regular briefing session for reporters and warned that taxes would go up on more than 160 million Americans on New Year’s Day unless Congress agreed to a compromise on extending the payroll tax holiday.
“How can you fight tooth-and-nail to protect high-end tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, and yet barely lift a finger for taxes going up on 160 million Americans who really need the help,” declared Obama, a reference to the refusal of Republicans in Congress to go along with the administration’s insistence that the tax holiday be accompanied by a surtax on Americans who make $1 million or more per year. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Obama also took a back-handed whack at the no-tax pledge crafted by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and signed by Republican candidates every year. While saying he realized “many Republicans have sworn an oath never to raise taxes as long as they live,” Obama told reporters, “[h]ow can it be the only time there’s a catch is when it comes to raising taxes on middle-class families?”
Top White House spokesman Carney followed Obama, who took no questions from the assembled press. He belittled what he called “the sudden heartfelt concern you hear from some Republicans” over extending the tax cut, charging it is “inconsistent with positions they have taken” in the past in favor of “tax cuts without paying for it [sic].” Carney, of course, did not mention that as Republicans were fighting to cut taxes over the years, they were continually thwarted in accompanying efforts to cut spending by Democrats in Congress.
As if to herald the payroll tax issue as a top campaign item, Carney was flanked at the podium by a new prop: a time clock bearing the title: “If Congress Doesn’t Act, Middle Class Taxes Increase In . . .” followed by the days, hours, minutes and seconds ticking off.
One reporter noted it was strange that the administration would use such a gimmick when it was highly critical of a similar clock unveiled by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) this summer with the countdown toward the U.S. reaching the debt limit. But that was different, Carney insisted, explaining that the White House criticized the debt-limit clock because it “raised the specter of the U.S. defaulting on its obligations.”
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