Repurposing their respective arguments from Friday’s round of press conferences, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in this week’s addresses made their cases for and against extending tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans, with a view to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” at year’s end.
For his part, the president pointed at his reelection victory Tuesday as a message “loud and clear” that Americans “won’t tolerate dysfunction, or politicians who see ‘compromise’ as a dirty word – not when so many of your families are struggling.”
On Friday, Mr. Obama said that while he’s “open to compromise,” he won’t allow a deal to go through that extends the Bush-era tax cuts – set to expire at the end of the year – for the top two percent of high-income families. Both parties are scrambling to arrange a bargain before a series of tax increases and spending cuts go into effect Jan. 1, potentially hurling the United States into another recession.
“At the end of this year, we face a series of deadlines that require us to make major decisions about how to pay down our deficit – decisions that will have a huge impact on the economy and the middle class, now and in the future,” the president said. “Last year, I worked with Democrats and Republicans to cut a trillion dollars’ worth of spending, and I intend to work with both parties to do more.
“But as I said over and over again on the campaign trail… if we’re serious about reducing the deficit, we have to combine spending cuts with revenue – and that means asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more in taxes,” he continued. “That’s how we did it when Bill Clinton was president. And that’s the only way we can afford to invest in education and job training and manufacturing – all the ingredients of a strong middle class and a strong economy.”
The same budget battle in 2011 that eventually led to $1 trillion in cuts also brought the government within minutes of shutting down. On Tuesday, voters elected the same legislative makeup – a split Congress and Democratic White House – that has struggled over the president’s term to break free of partisan gridlock and move budget legislation.
While insisting he’s “open to compromise and new ideas,” and said he’s invited leaders of both parties to the White House to discuss solutions next week, the president issued a caveat: “I refuse to accept any approach that isn’t balanced,” he said. “I will not ask students or seniors or middle-class families to pay down the entire deficit while people making over $250,000 aren’t asked to pay a dime more in taxes.
“This was a central question in the election,” he continued, “and on Tuesday, we found out that the majority of Americans agree with my approach – that includes Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.”
But delivering the Republicans’ weekly response, Boehner, too, recycled his gist from Friday’s press conferences, arguing that allowing the top two rates to rise would be letting “our nation’s economy go off part of the fiscal cliff in January.”
Democrats “believe that doing that will generate more revenue for the federal government – but here’s the problem with that,” the House Speaker said. “Raising those rates on January 1 would, according to the independent firm Ernst & Young, destroy 700,000 American jobs. That’s because many of those hit by this tax increase are small business owners – the very people who are the key to job creation in America. I used to be one of them.
“This week, I offered congratulations to President Obama, along with an alternative to sending our economy over any part of the fiscal cliff,” he continued. The pillars of his own framework, Boehner explained, include tax reform “that closes special interest loopholes and lowers tax rates,” entitlement reform, and a rejection of “arbitrary” national defense cuts.
“A stronger economy means more revenue – which is exactly what the president is seeking,” he said, adding that a brief conversation with Mr. Obama this week left him “hopeful that we can continue those talks and forge an agreement that can pass both chambers of Congress.”