Cynical perfection from The One, who’s been waiting for weeks to deliver this Orwellian bit of election messaging. His topic is the standoff in Congress over last year’s payroll tax cut; the GOP wants to extend the cut and offset it with new spending cuts, Democrats want to actually increase the cut (there’s an election coming up, y’know) and offset it with — ta da — a new surtax on millionaires. Obama and Reid know Republicans won’t accept that, which they want you to believe means the GOP prefers to see the payroll tax revert to its previous higher rate, which in turn means Republicans hate middle-class families just like Paul Ryan hates your grandma and wants her to die. Here’s O’s presser today making sure the media understands the basics of the narrative.
So transparent is the Democratic strategy of setting Obama up with yet another “do-nothing Republicans/party of the rich” campaign talking point, in fact, that Reid didn’t even bother to round out his newest proposal with provisions on unemployment benefits and “doctor fix,” both of which are expected to be part of any final compromise package. They know the millionaire surtax is a likely nonstarter and that Republicans will block this newest offer too; forcing them to block it is the whole point, in hopes of impressing upon white working-class voters who increasingly are voting GOP to take a second look at Dems as the blue-collar party. All of which would be fine as a simple matter of political hardball if not for the surreal hypocrisy of O lecturing the right on taxes when in fact Obamanomics makes middle-class tax hikes a fait accompli sooner or later — although certainly no sooner than election day, natch. His party opposes spending cuts of every sort except, of course, to defense, and gutting the Pentagon won’t get us remotely close to even budget-wise. Neither will new taxes on the rich, even at dramatically higher rates. If you want a robust entitlement state, you’ve got two choices: Squeeze the middle class or keep borrowing and wait for the Greece scenario to unfold. Or you could, I guess, do both. It’ll be much easier to sell those middle-class taxes in the midst of a fiscal meltdown.
One interesting wrinkle to last week’s payroll-tax wrangling was Susan Collins agreeing to the new millionaire surtax provided that there’s an exemption included for small businesses. She wants to tax the idle rich, in other words, but not the job-creating rich. The same day she was talking about that, Mike Johanns suggested a “change of mood” inside the GOP caucus about tax increase on millionaires. Were they both just blowing smoke, knowing that tax hikes on the rich poll reliably well and might be an effective issue for Democrats next year, or is there in fact some nucleus of Republicans willing to deal with Obama on this? I guess we’ll never know because he’s apparently decided he doesn’t want to talk to anyone anymore. Maybe he just gave up, or maybe that “do-nothing Republicans” talking point is a little too sweet for him to risk.