Obama says he will veto any legislation that doesn’t include a tax increase on “the rich.” The media will do all they can to pretend that this means the Republicans are the one’s risking the American people. This deserves a few minutes of thought.
Whether or not you side with Obama or the GOP Congress should not matter. If you are a journalist and are reporting on the issue as a neutral observer, then all you can say is that the two parties disagree and both are trying to force the other to let them get their way. If, instead, you portray this contest as if the Republicans in Congress are the ones putting the US in danger, then you are simply doing PR for a Democrat President; that is all.
But from the point of view of American civics, the President is the one who is playing chicken with the fiscal cliff, not the Republicans in Congress. To understand this, let’s ask: Did the Founding Fathers intend for the President to be the Grand Legislator of the country? No, they did not. The Congress is supposed to make laws. The President has the veto as a check on the Congress, but he is not authorized to simply dictate law to Congress. (This is why, even though necessary, seeing presidential candidates debate plans for years of national budgets is so painful to a Constitutionalist. That is the job of Congress, not the President.)
So the Congress is supposed to make the best law it can. Right now, whether the President likes it or not, the House is dominated by Republicans. They don’t agree with his ideas about raising taxes on “the wealthy.”
So how do we judge Obama’s promise to veto any bill that doesn’t raise taxes on “the wealthy” in a way that he approves of? I think there are two reasons Obama wants this, his stated reason and his real reason. His stated reason is that he must reduce the deficit (and even the national debt, according to some of his rhetoric). By any objective criterion, this reason is nonsense. If he could keep the economy from getting worse while taxing the rich one hundred percent of their income, he still would make no significant reduction in the deficit. Deficits of more than a trillion dollars simply cannot be affected by that meager amount. And, in the real world, raising taxes on those who invest and start businesses would actually hurt the economy–and thus reduce revenue even further.
Obama’s other reason for raising taxes on the rich (perhaps unstated but too obvious to be denied) is that he thinks it is a good in itself and that it attracts voters to his side. I’ll not criticize that position here. I’ll just ask, when facing a fiscal cliff, even if one agrees with the president, how can not getting what he wants justify him punishing the poor and middle class Americans? The fact is, when we go over the fiscal cliff, it will be the poor and middle class who are hurt the most; not the rich.
By any objective, neutral measure, it is Obama who is holding the country hostage, not the Republicans. He would rather hurt the country than give up an ideological luxury that has nothing to do with reducing the deficit.