WASHINGTON: Some of the best Republican arguments against President Barack Obama’s proposals to avoid a “fiscal cliff” come from the president himself, in comments he made months or years before his re-election.
Stung by the GOP’s midterm election gains in 2010, Obama took stands that differ from his current positions on raising tax rates, adjusting Social Security and other topics now dominating Washington as a Dec. 31 deadline nears.
Sometimes gleefully, Republicans throw Obama’s old words back at him. They portray him as inconsistent at best, insincere at worst.
The strategy has limits, however. Elections make a difference.
Obama’s party gained House and Senate seats, while he handily won a second term with a campaign that explicitly called for raising tax rates on incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.
Republicans keep reminding Americans of his previous positions, hoping for any edge in the partisan arguments over the fiscal cliff.
The previous Obama positions that Republicans love to recount include:
• Tax revenues. At a July 2011 news conference, Obama said the government could increase such revenues by $1.2 trillion over 10 years without raising income tax rates. It could be done, he said, “by eliminating loopholes, eliminating some deductions and engaging in a tax reform process that could have lowered rates generally while broadening the base.”
Republican leaders favor just such a policy of “tax reform” that lowers or maintains current income tax rates. Earlier this month, however, Obama told business leaders that higher tax rates on the nation’s wealthiest earners are essential to reaching necessary revenue targets.
• Social Security: Last year, Obama engaged in closed-door negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, seeking a “grand bargain” for deficit-reduction. The talks ultimately failed, but the two men staked out positions that still follow them.
Obama agreed to a less generous cost-of-living adjustment formula for Social Security, the popular but costly entitlement program for older Americans. Now, the White House says Social Security should not be part of the fiscal cliff negotiations.
• New Revenue Target. In last year’s “grand bargain” negotiations, Obama sought $1.2 trillion in new tax revenues over 10 years. But he signaled he could live with the $800 billion that Boehner proposed, if it accompanied a smaller batch of spending cuts.
Now, Obama says $1.6 trillion in new revenue is needed to help tame the nation’s borrowing habits. Boehner is sticking with $800 billion.
• Tax Increase Ramifications. One of Obama’s most revisited comments came in August 2009, before the 2010 GOP election triumphs and when U.S. unemployment was 9.7 percent. In an interview, he seemed to raise doubts about his own push to raise taxes on the wealthy.
“The last thing you want to do is to raise taxes in the middle of a recession because that would just suck up, take more demand out of the economy and put businesses in a further hole,” the president said.
Technically, the recession had ended two months earlier. But even today, with unemployment at 7.7 percent, many Republicans and some economists say it’s unwise to raise taxes.