Obama’s Leadership: Will “Buffett tax” fly?

I didn’t get around to answering Politico’s question “Will ‘Buffett tax’ fly?” in time for them to publish it.  But after a day of hearing the President argue his case, I’m sharing my thoughts with you. Let me know what you think.

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Arena Asks: President Barack Obama will release a plan today to cut the federal deficit by $3 trillion over the next decade, drawing half the savings from new tax revenue and sparing Medicare recipients from having to wait longer to collect benefits. Invoking calls by investor Warren Buffett, Obama’s plan would also would prohibit millionaires from paying a lower tax rate than middle-class Americans. Will this populist-sounding proposal win broad backing? Or is it repackaged class warfare that won’t play well in an aspirational society?

My Answer: If Obama had launched this bold Buffet Rule initiative in January 2009, it would have been a slam dunk. The public was with him, it would have fulfilled a campaign promise, and it would have sucked the wind right out of the Republican “no”-sayer sails. Obama would be in a much more favorable leadership position today and the polls would show it. That’s because he would have shown both strength and courage by setting the agenda and establishing the playing field’s boundaries.

It’s still the right thing to do, and it’s never too late to do the right thing. If the president goes all out to educate people about why this proposal is fair to individuals and good for the economy overall, he might parlay the initiative into an electoral plus. The “class warfare” charge is nonsense, and in fact it’s just the opposite–an attempt to ameliorate an unfair tax system that has exacerbated economic class differentials.

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Timing counts for a lot, though. Three years of transparently (and often foolishly) pre-emptive political compromising have used up the moral high ground momentum Obama brought into office. The Buffett Rule proposal in 2012 feels like the calculated hail Mary pass of a team captain with time running out for a win. And with a Republican House and weakened Senate Democratic majority, the likelihood of scoring a meaningful legislative victory is zilch.

Scoreboard: Net yardage gain to Obama, but not likely to change the game.

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