Obama puts GOP in a box on debt, taxes, revenue

President Obama is obviously aware of the fact that congressional Republicans are demanding a massive debt-reduction plan, but expect the deal not to bring in an additional penny in revenue.

At a White House press conference this morning, the president did a very effective job at putting Republicans in a box. Either policymakers accept a balance approach, Obama argued, or the GOP will be exposed as deficit frauds who care about protecting the rich at the expense of everyone else. Greg Sargent ran this transcript from the event:

“If we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we keep the tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we’ve got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship. That means we have to stop funding certain grants for medical research. That means that food safety may be compromised. That means that Medicare has to bear a greater part of the burden. These are the choices we have to make….

“The Republicans say they want to reduce the deficit. Every single observer who’s not an elected official or politician says we can’t reduce our deficit in the scale and scope we need to without having a balanced approach that looks at everything. Democrats have to accept some painful spending cuts that hurt some of our constituencies that we may not like. And we’ve shown a willingness to do that for the greater good….

“If you are a wealthy CEO or hedge fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they’ve ever been. They’re lower than they’ve been since the 1950s. And you can afford it. You’ll still be able to ride on your corporate jet. You’ll just have to pay a little more…. My belief is that the Republican leadership in Congress will hopefully sooner rather than later come to the conclusion that they need to make the right decisions for the country, that everybody else has been willing to move off their maximalist position. They need to do the same. My expectation is that they’ll do the responsible thing.”

The White House message is obviously taking shape. Obama and his team want the public to know the administration is committed to debt reduction and tough choices, which will include calling on broad sacrifice, but which will protect key investments in education and health care. Republicans, on the other hand, aren’t really committed to debt reduction if they’re only willing to look at one side of the budget ledger, aren’t especially concerned about education and health care, and will fight to the death to ensure the wealthy don’t have to sacrifice at all.

The phrase of the morning is “corporate-jet owner.” I started keeping count of how many times the president used the phrase, and I think I noticed four separate instances. The point was to highlight a $3 billion perk available to those who buy these jets — a perk Republicans won’t touch because it would count as a (cue scary music) tax increase.

As the process continues, the White House message to the public will be pretty straightforward: we can have a major debt-reduction deal if only Republicans weren’t fighting so hard to protect corporate-jet owners. Why, the argument will go, won’t the GOP look out for students and seniors the way it looks out for the fat cats in the Cessna?