An aggressive call for tax fairness

One of the more common reactions to President Obama’s joint session speech two weeks ago noted how fired up he was. Putting aside substance and policy for a moment, we saw a passionate president who, refreshingly, didn’t mind mocking his opponents and making forceful demands. I lost count of how many times I saw folks say this reminded them of the “old” Obama, circa 2008.

With that in mind, this morning’s speech on debt reduction is worth watching (or reading), because the more aggressive Obama clearly hasn’t gone away. Note, for example, when the president called out House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for rejecting a “my way or the highway” attitude, and then refusing to consider any plan with additional tax revenue.

But as Greg Sargent noted, perhaps the most important portion of the remarks dealt with taxes and “class warfare.”

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For those who can’t watch clips online, here’s the transcript of this part of the remarks:

“I am ready, I am eager, to work with Democrats and Republicans to reform the tax code to make it simpler, make it fairer, and make America more competitive. But any reform plan will have to raise revenue to help close our deficit. That has to be part of the formula. And any reform should follow another simple principle: Middle-class families shouldn’t pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires. That’s pretty straightforward. It’s hard to argue against that. Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. There is no justification for it.

“It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million. Anybody who says we can’t change the tax code to correct that, anyone who has signed some pledge to protect every single tax loophole so long as they live, they should be called out. They should have to defend that unfairness — explain why somebody who’s making $50 million a year in the financial markets should be paying 15 percent on their taxes, when a teacher making $50,000 a year is paying more than that — paying a higher rate. They ought to have to answer for it. And if they’re pledged to keep that kind of unfairness in place, they should remember, the last time I checked the only pledge that really matters is the pledge we take to uphold the Constitution.

“Now, we’re already hearing the usual defenders of these kinds of loopholes saying this is just ‘class warfare.’ I reject the idea that asking a hedge fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare. I think it’s just the right the thing to do…. All I’m saying is that those who have done well, including me, should pay our fair share in taxes to contribute to the nation that made our success possible. We shouldn’t get a better deal than ordinary families get.”

For what it’s worth, I’ve seen the prepared text of this speech, and much of this portion was adlibbed. All of those folks who whine incessantly that the president should forget the teleprompter and speak his mind? Here you go.

As for the substance, and the president’s call for tax fairness, it’s hard not to notice the president is playing a strong hand. Republicans believe the mere mention of “class warfare” is supposed to stop any and all conversation, but Obama is delivering a popular, sensible message that will very likely resonate with the American mainstream. What’s more, he’s sending a signal that he’s not afraid of GOP talking points on this.

Greg added, “[T]his has to be the clearest sign yet that Obama has taken a very sharp populist turn as he seeks to frame the contrast between the parties heading into 2012…. [F]or now, at least, this is a clear sign that the ‘professional left’ — which has long argued that showing fight is far more important to independents than chasing after compromise for its own sake — is getting what it wants.”