By Sam Youngman - 09/20/11 12:28 AM EDT
President Obama made a direct appeal to his often-disgruntled base on Monday, proposing steep tax hikes on the wealthy as part of a $3 trillion deficit-reduction package.
By calling for $1.5 trillion in higher taxes for the rich and promising to institute the “Buffett rule,” which says millionaires and billionaires like Warren Buffett should not pay a lower tax rate than the middle class, Obama is seeking to settle Democratic and liberal voters disappointed in the lack of “hope and change” seen since his 2008 election.
Rejecting criticism that his proposals amount to class warfare, Obama said the rich had to pay their fare share to ensure the safety of programs important to the middle class and poor.
“This is not class warfare,” Obama said. “It’s math.”
Obama’s more partisan tone and proposals, which would appear to have no chance of moving through the GOP-held House, come after his senior campaign adviser David Axelrod circulated a memo last week that insisted the president is in great shape with his base. Obama’s actions suggest the White House has some concerns.
“He’s obviously decided to restart the campaign by focusing on several issues his base believes in,” said Larry Berman, a political science professor at Georgia State University.
Surveys consistently show a majority of voters disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy. While other polls have shown the president with an advantage in head-to-head match-ups against Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, two possible GOP presidential nominees, Obama’s approval ratings would be unnerving to most political advisers.
Berman, remarking on Obama’s proposals to hit the rich with new taxes, said: “His internals must be really bad.”
Other political analysts likewise view Obama’s new fighting posture as a clear effort to shore up or win back his base.
“Over the last few weeks, mostly since Rick Perry has been in the race and Obama’s team has become increasingly fearful of having to run a campaign that is predicated on an enthusiastic base, rather than a persuadable middle, the Obama team has also begun to look for ways to reposition the president not as a triangulator, but as a fierce defender of the Democratic Party,” said Lara Brown, a political science professor at Villanova University.
Obama’s jobs speech to a joint session of Congress was seen as a partisan address, and won praise from Democratic leaders. In subsequent campaign-style events around the country, Obama demanded that Congress “pass this bill,” to the accompaniment of music from Obama’s 2008 campaign instead of “Hail to the Chief.”
On Monday, he vowed to veto any deficit package that reformed entitlements but did not raise taxes on the wealthy.
Republicans, who have taken a more conciliatory tone since returning from an August recess where both political parties were battered over the unpopular debt-ceiling deal, on Monday blasted Obama’s tax proposals, saying they were not serious and would hurt the economy and creation of jobs.
“Pitting one group of Americans against another is not leadership,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.
Obama’s effort to reach out to the left was also reflected in what he didn’t include in his proposal.
When Boehner and Obama tried to reach a grand bargain on raising the debt ceiling, Obama angered liberal Democrats by offering the possibility of major entitlement program changes, including raising the eligibility age for Medicare, in exchange for tax hikes.
On Monday, Obama abandoned that proposal in favor of other, less drastic savings to Medicare and Medicaid. While those proposals took criticism from liberal groups, the friendly fire was much more muted than over the summer, particularly since $320 billion in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other healthcare programs was combined with $1.5 trillion in tax hikes.
Obama — for the first time in recent memory — even won some measured praise from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), which has criticized him on an almost daily basis.
“By barnstorming the country in support of taxing the rich and government investment in jobs, the president has followed the longtime advice of progressives and has taken big steps in the right direction for our country,” said Adam Green, the PCCC’s co-founder.
If the left has been disillusioned with Obama, the White House at times has been disillusioned with liberals.
“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug-tested,” former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs memorably told The Hill in comments criticizing the “professional left” last year. “I mean, it’s crazy,” Gibbs said.
But on Friday, Axelrod insisted Obama’s reelection campaign isn’t worried about his political base.
“Despite what you hear in elite commentary, the president’s support among base voters and in key demographic groups has stayed strong,” Axelrod wrote in a memo.
“According to the latest NBC-WSJ poll, Democrats approve of his performance by an 81 percent to 14 percent margin. That’s stronger than President Clinton’s support among Democrats at this point in his term and, according to Gallup, stronger than any Democratic president dating back to Harry Truman through this point in their presidency.”
Brown said Obama’s proposal is good politics for egging on the base.