Democratic pollster and Fox News commentator Doug Schoen tells Newsmax that the tax-and-deficit plan President Barack Obama unveiled on Monday is intended to set a political trap for Republicans, rather than offering a viable legislative proposal to improve the economy.
“Obama is now just as concerned with politics as he is with substance,” Schoen says. “This is as much about the election next year as it is about balancing the budget and creating jobs this year.
“Class warfare and tax increases are all about setting up the Republicans for political attacks, not bipartisan cooperation — as the rhetoric in today's speech made clear,” Schoen says.
One reason Obama’s speech was widely viewed as an exercise in political gamesmanship is that his proposals do not address the fundamental problems with Social Security and Medicare that economists of all political stripes agree are unsustainable.
Thus Obama appears to be maneuvering Republicans into taking a trifecta of positions that polls suggest are overwhelmingly unpopular with voters: no new taxes on wealthier Americans, cuts to both Social Security and Medicare, and a spending-cuts-without-tax-increases approach to balancing the budget.
Many pundits pointed out that Obama told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd as recently as August 2009: “Normally, you don’t raise taxes in a recession, which is why we haven’t . . . you don’t raise taxes in a recession.”
Although the proximity of the election appears to have changed that calculus, the White House insists that the proposed tax increases on wealthy Americans would not take effect until 2013 — after the election.
Obama presented a sharply partisan speech Monday afternoon in which he attacked Boehner. Obama said he was encouraged last week when Speaker Boehner said the nation’s problems could not be resolved with a “my-way-or-the-highway” approach. But then, he said, Boehner ruled out tax increases in the same speech.
“So the speaker says you can’t have it my way or the highway, then says it’s got to be my way or the high way. That’s not smart. It’s not right,” Obama said.
Obama also rejected the notion that his proposed “Buffett rule” to tax wealthier Americans amounts to class warfare. “Either we gut education and medical research or we’ve got to reform the tax code,” he says. “This is not class warfare — it’s math. The money has to come from someplace.”
In addition to $1.5 trillion in new taxes, the deficit-reduction package that the president outlined includes saving $1.1 trillion from the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, $430 billion from interest reductions, and $580 billion in “cuts and reforms across all mandatory programs.”
Obama’s broadside against Boehner triggered a strong Republican backlash that, if anything, appears to have driven the two sides further apart. In keeping with the political tone of the speech, Republicans fired back.
Boehner said Obama “has not made a serious contribution [to the congressional debt committee’s] work today.” He added: “Pitting one group of Americans against another is not leadership.”
Other top Republicans reacted similarly.
Fox News commentator Karl Rove said Obama “has proposed a spending package and a tax package which are meant for political consumption, not for legislative consideration.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Veto threats, a massive tax hike, phantom savings, and punting on entitlement reform is not a recipe for economic or job growth — or even meaningful deficit reduction . . . The good news is that the joint committee [on deficit reduction] is taking this issue far more seriously than the White House.”
And not surprisingly, some of the staunchest critics of Obama’s speech were the GOP presidential hopefuls. Presumed GOP front-runner Texas Gov. Rick Perry said: “The Obama plan fails to provide the certainty employers need to create jobs and the spending and deficit reduction our economy needs.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, similarly, released a statement before the speech that: “President Obama’s plan to raise taxes will have a crushing impact on economic growth. Higher taxes mean fewer jobs — it’s that simple. This is yet another indication that President Obama has no clue how to bring our economy back.”
And Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said the plan amounts to “increasing taxes on job creators.” She called it “the wrong policy to create economic growth and jobs and shows he doesn’t understand how to turn our economy around.”
Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia tells Newsmax: “There's no question the speech was fundamentally political. The White House knows there is no chance most of this package can pass the Republican House, maybe even the Senate. So why do it?
“If Obama is to win a second term, he has to re-energize his Democratic base, which has been in a funk, and also attract back millions of Independents that have left his camp,” Sabato explains. “Polling shows the millionaire's tax strongly appeals to both groups.”
The president’s rhetoric has grown progressively sharper as his standing in the polls has diminished. A new CBS/New York Times poll Monday showed that his approval had reached an all-time low of just 43 percent, compared to 50 percent who disapprove. Other surveys have the president’s approval as low as 39 percent.
Also, Rasmussen Reports released a poll on Monday with even more worrisome numbers for all the president’s men: Only 34 percent of self-identified undecided voters approve of the president’s job performance, compared with a whopping 64 percent who disapprove. Most analysts say those are the voters Obama will have to persuade to win re-election.
Signs emerged Monday that Obama’s move to shore up his support on his political left may be part of a larger effort to avert a liberal revolt. Gallup reported only 68 percent of self-identified liberals now approve of Obama’s job performance, tying an all-time low. As recently as May, his approval with liberals stood at 81 percent. His high water mark in liberal approval occurred in May 2009, when 92 percent of liberals approved of his job performance.
The president’s political handlers aren’t the only ones keeping an eye on those numbers. A liberal organization led by consumer activist Ralph Nader, as well as Princeton University professor Cornel West, vowed Monday to mount a primary challenge against the president within his own party next year.
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