The president has powers to fight income inequality, President Obama argued in an interview broadcast Sunday, adding that Republicans in Congress have hobbled his efforts to do it.
Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Obama acknowledged that the wealthiest Americans have benefited disproportionately from the economic recovery of recent years. But he was quick to add that much of that trend is due to globalization, technology and, not least, the GOP's opposition to his economic agenda — all factors he suggested are beyond his control.
"I think the president can stop it," Obama said, when asked about the growing income gap. "The problem is that there continues to be a major debate here in Washington, and that is, how do we respond to these underlying trends?"
Obama promoted his efforts to increase funding for education, infrastructure, and research and development programs, and he trumpeted his push to reform the tax code to discourage outsourcing.
"It doesn’t solve the problem entirely, but it pushes against these trends," Obama said. "And the problem that we’ve got right now is, you’ve got a portion of Congress whose policies … just want to, you know, leave things alone. They actually want to accelerate these trends."
The comments highlight the long-standing debate between the two parties over the size of government and Washington's role in influencing the economy, particularly since the recession.
Obama and the Democrats have called for greater federal spending to boost manufacturing, infrastructure and training programs, which they say will create new jobs and hike revenue down the road.
Republicans, meanwhile, say the best way to bolster the economy is to remove government barriers to private profit-making. They want Congress to cut taxes, slash federal spending and eliminate laws and regulations they say are strangling the private sector — not least Obama's healthcare reforms.
"ObamaCare must be repealed or we will continue to witness depressed job growth," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) argued earlier this month.
The conversation arrives on the heels of a new report from a pair of distinguished economists indicating that the wealthiest Americans have received the lion's share of the income gains during the recovery. Emmanuel Saez, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Thomas Piketty, of the Paris School of Economics, found that more than 50 percent of all income last year went to the highest 10 percent of earners, while more than 20 percent of income went to the top 1 percent.
Obama said in the interview, recorded on Friday, that the GOP's agenda would only widen the gaps.
"There’s no serious economist out there that would suggest that if you took the Republican agenda of slashing education further, slashing Medicare further, slashing research and development further, slashing investments in infrastructure further, that that would reverse some of these trends of inequality," he said.