President Obama faces three daunting challenges—jobs, deficits and reelection. His actions reveal he places a second term ahead of fixing the economy and federal finances.
If Mr. Obama runs on the economy—he loses. Too many voters are unemployed, underemployed, standing discouraged on the sidelines, or watching their paychecks dwindle for Mr. Obama to win. And most voters recognize, had President Obama’s economic policies permitted the economy to grow as it should, deficits in Washington and state capitals would be much more manageable.
If he runs on handling the financial crisis—he loses. He inherited a mess, but trillions in bailouts for Wall Street, Chrysler and GM rewarded the best paid white collar and blue collar workers for lousy management and worse, while the other 98 percent watch their paychecks shrink in value. Now charges of fraud in his solar energy program and revelations about White House management dysfunction cast a president lacking judgment and leadership qualities.
On both jobs and the deficit, the president seeks to present a sharp contrast with his eventual GOP rival premised on “fairness”—presenting himself as guardian of the working family, and his prospective Republican opponents as champions of privilege.
An additional $447,000,000 in stimulus and tax cuts, over two years, if spent smartly, could create about 2.5 million jobs for that period. However, he proposes paying for teachers by cutting aid to states for health care workers and that won’t create many jobs. Extending the payroll tax holiday for the middle class by taxing those who earn over $200,000 only adds marginally to new spending and few jobs.
Much of what the president wants to do is already in place but about to expire—for example, state aid for teachers, extended unemployment benefits and a significant share of the payroll tax holiday.
The taxes he wants—jacking up rates on high income individuals—would discourage hiring by many smaller businesses like machine shops and restaurants, whose owners already face marginal rates near 60 percent, counting state taxes. The temporary hiring incentives the President proposes, history indicates will be of little benefit.
An infrastructure bank—financed by permitting corporations with profits parked off shore to deposit those in the bank and not pay taxes until withdrawn—is a worthy proposal, but only a small part of what the President wants.
Overall, the economy may gain half a point of GDP and 350,000 jobs, but most of those would vanish after two years.
Republicans see this and won’t pass nearly all of his spending, because they won’t succumb to his foolish funding proposals. However, the president will get the opportunity to paint them as protectors of the privileged at a time of national peril. That smells of demagoguery to me.
And so it goes with deficit reduction. On taxes, the president is quite specific in that he wants families over $250,000 to pay Clinton era tax rates, and give up exemptions for charitable contributions and home mortgages, pay punitive taxes on investments ranging up to 65 percent, and pillory oil companies and small aircraft manufacturers. Yet, he is vague about what revisions he will accept in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs—he wants Congress to do the heavy lifting on those
All this permits him to say it’s not fair to ask seniors to pay more for health care but not to ask the wealthiest of Americans to pay more taxes—the country can’t afford not to do both.
Mr. President, I can help you find the money to cut the budget and avoid job-killing tax increases.
In 2007, with two wars at full tilt and the Bush tax cuts and prescription benefits for seniors in place, the deficit was only $161 billion—an embarrassing fact to Democrats who blame deficits on George Bush’s tax cuts and spending.
The Democrats took over Congress that year, and since then government spending is up $1.1 trillion but inflation should have only required $200 billion.
Speaker Boehner should simply give the president a list of where the additional $900 billion went—increases in the regulatory bureaucracy and government pay, increased Medicaid and Medicare benefits, and crony spending on solar energy schemes, electric rail from nowhere to no place, and other fanciful industrial policies. Then the president can choose the one half of the additional spending he wants to keep, and he can pick which payoffs to campaign workers, bogus enterprises, and wealthy Democratic contributors he would like to nix.
That would save $450 billion a year—much more than the president’s deficit reduction package would accomplish. It would permit Americans to see where his values lie.
Instead the president proposes to raise taxes on the rich, and the Republicans cry class warfare, even though polls show that plays right into his hand. Voters love class warfare, as long as their class wins.
The Republicans need to change the terms of the debate—give the president genuine choices for cutting spending—and take the dialogue back where it belongs—getting the private sector growing to create jobs.
Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland School, and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.