President Barack Obama offers little in the way of policy proposals for the future, yet his most ardent followers continue to spin wishful fantasies about the great changes an Obama second term would bring. Obama has declared inequality in U.S. society to be the signature issue of the times; however, he doesn’t have proposals that would have a significant impact on that inequality. Many of his supporters, who see the Affordable Care Act as falling short of their hopes and dreams, still tout it as a waystation to more significant changes. In other areas, Obama’s supporters pay much more attention to what he says than to what he does.
A progressive tax rate structure, with a high top marginal rate, would be one of the best ways to lower the concentration of wealth and income among the top few percent of Americans and the concomitant advantages that accrue from that skewed distribution. President Obama foresees no major rearrangement of the tax code, whereby those with six-, seven-, or even higher digit incomes would assume a much higher share of the federal income tax burden. His proposed Buffett rule will raise an estimated $47 billion over ten years and it will apply to only a small percentage of millionaires. He already has broken a 2008 campaign pledge to not extend the Bush tax cuts and he will be hard-pressed politically at the end of 2012 to have those cuts expire only for those earning over $250,000.
At a New Mexico Sierra Club event held recently, Eric Griegos, a Democratic candidate for the First District U.S. House seat, was the featured speaker. I asked him about his support for the Buffett rule, since it won’t raise much revenue and will make it more difficult to enact a tax code with much higher tax rates as taxpayers advance up the income scale. Griegos acknowledged the small impact the Buffett rule would have on the deficit and that a tax rate structure reminiscent of post-World War II America would be desirable, yet he favored the rule because it would be remarkable if anti-tax Republicans — and some Democrats — would accept an actual payable 30 percent rate for the wealthy.
It is going to become apparent at some point in the not-too-distant future, that much more revenue must be raised to fund largely locked-in budgetary imperitives; therefore, responsible political parties must begin to prepare the public for the needed financial sacrifices.
President Barack Obama frequently touts the number of times he has reduced taxes — at least 13 times for small businesses alone — thus, he has increased the difficulty of reaching his goal of raising an additional $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. Of course, he can try to project much of those increases in revenue onto the six years after a possible second term ends for him.
Besides the Buffett rule and ending part of the Bush tax cuts, the only other revenue raiser that Obama proposes for a second term is to close tax loopholes for the wealthy; however, the specific loopholes he has identified — subsidizing private airplanes and oil and gas subsidies/credits — won’t raise significant revenue. It is also notable in a recent Obama mailing I received, in which he defines what “CHANGE IS,” he proposes that one way to create jobs is to cut taxes even more.
A second major area in which wishful thinking prevails is in regard to the Affordable Care Act, which many of those who wanted single-payer, or at least a robust public option, nonetheless support, because it advanced the nation closer to a more fundamental health care transformation. The more likely future reality is that a limited reform has vented away the pressure building to go to a single-payer system.
In seeing what an Obama second term might look like, it is instructive to focus on his record, not on the generalized, non-specific things he proposes to do. He is not likely to deflate a bloated Pentagon. reduce our capacity to build more nuclear warheads and delivery systems; trim and make more transparent our sprawling intelligence complex — promised in the 2008 presidential campaign — abandon his adherence to the positions of George W. Bush on civil liberties; build a renewable energy future by cutting back on fossil fuel production; and substitute a law enforcement/diplomatic approach for the largely military force approach now being followed in the War on Terror. Very recently, the Obama administration completed negotiations for a ten-year commitment to Afghanistan security after the tentative 2014 deadline for the removal of the bulk of U.S. troops. We don’t know the details of that agreement, but it portends a large financial drain on U.S. resources until at least 2024. Coupled with this not-yet-formally-completed Afghan commitment, Obama says in “CHANGE IS” that the U.S., “remains committed to Iraq’s long-term security….”
Overall then, looking ahead to what President Obama will likely do if reelected, the public motto should not be “Yes We Can” but “No We Shouldn’t.”