Obama condemns Bush tax cuts, but wants middle class extension

If any of those in the White House press corps who regularly cover the president needed an excuse for not attending the president’s announcement today on taxes, it was a good one: to use an oft-use phrase of young people, “we’ve seen this movie before.”

Mr. Obama’s message at the White House today was the same one he has delivered almost without alteration since the first year of his presidency: namely, that the Bush-era tax cuts on Americans who make more than $250,000 a year must expire.

As he has done throughout his term, the president repeatedly referred to the tax cuts that must go as “tax cut[s] for the wealthiest Americans” and vowed that their fate “will be decided by the outcome of the next election. My opponent will fight to keep them in place. I will fight to end them.”

Although such rhetoric can be considered standard fare for an election year, it has been standard with Mr. Obama on this topic for some time. On December 10, 2010, when it became clear that Republicans would not allow the Bush tax cuts to be extended unless the extension applied to all of them, the president suddenly called reporters in to announce he was reluctantly signing the complete tax cut package. In unusually harsh rhetoric, he wondered aloud why “tax cuts for the wealthy” were a “holy grail” to Republicans and likened Republicans to “hostage takers” on the tax cut issue and concluded the “hostage was the American people.”

On Monday, the president toned this kind of talk down but not by very much. He called on Congress to “pass a bill extending the tax cuts for the middle class [and] I will sign it tomorrow. Pass it next week [and I’ll sign it next week.. . . you get the idea.”

Of course, Mr. Obama probably realizes that Republicans in the Senate and House would never agree to such an arrangement—knowing full well that the odds of revisiting the issue of tax cuts for the highest wage-earners would almost surely never emerge from the Democratic-controlled Senate in a lameduck session of Congress.

Politics aside, Obama’s claim that “the proposal I make today would extend these tax cuts for 97 percent of all small business owners in America” came under fire from the voice of small business itself. According to Ray Keating, chief economist of the National Federation of Independent Business, “These upper income earners tend to overwhelmingly be entrepreneurs and investors. It’s political spin in a campaign year, winning out over tax policy.”