President Obama's new push for a minimum tax on millionaires is a populist gambit designed to gain support from liberals and independent voters who want him to confront the rich. The proposal, which would require that the wealthy pay at least the same tax rate as most middle-class Americans, is part of Obama's $3 trillion, 10-year deficit reduction package.
It's already raising the hackles of Republicans who call it class warfare, and this will make it more difficult for Obama to win GOP votes in Congress for his overall economic package.
Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, says Obama is playing on Americans' "fear, envy and anxiety" by targeting those who make more than $1 million a year. "Class warfare may make for really good politics but it makes for rotten economics," Ryan said on Fox News Sunday. The congressman added that the millionaires' provision would hinder job creation, create more uncertainty among business leaders, and hamper investment. "If you tax something more, you get less of it," Ryan said. Republicans argue that the way to erase the deficit is to make deep cuts in spending, not raise taxes on anyone.
But, faced with relentless opposition in the past, the White House isn't as willing any more to reach out to the GOP. Democratic strategists say Obama is now willing to further alienate Republican legislators, who hold a majority in the House, because they are unlikely to go along with most of his deficit-reduction plans. So he is attempting to set up a clear contrast with the Republicans and portray them as protectors of privilege. At the same time, he is pivoting left, at least on the tax-the-rich issue, because liberals have been so restive. Many on the left are frustrated because they say Obama has been too conciliatory toward conservatives and corporate America.
All this was underscored in a Washington Post story yesterday in which some leaders of MoveOn.org, which represents liberal activists, said they are still deciding whether to mobilize for Obama's campaign in 2012. "We are all incredibly frustrated," said Justin Ruben, MoveOn's executive director. Nearly 1 million MoveOn members volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008 and donated $88 million, the Post said. If Obama fails to generate that kind enthusiasm next year, it wil spell more trouble for his campaign.