I didn’t catch the President’s press conference today, and it’s getting mixed reviews on the subject of the Bush tax cuts. Some commenters are saying the President was tough on the subject of upper-income tax cuts, and other commenters are saying he was not tough at all.
I’ve read the transcript of the President’s remarks, and while he appeared open to compromise, he also seemed to be clear that extending the Bush tax cuts for upper-income earners is not on the table. This is from the Q and A:
Q: Mr. President, on the fiscal cliff — two years ago, sir, you said that you wouldn’t extend the Bush-era tax cuts, but at the end of the day, you did. So respectfully, sir, why should the American people and the Republicans believe that you won’t cave again this time?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, two years ago the economy was in a different situation. We were still very much in the early parts of recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And ultimately, we came together, not only to extend the Bush tax cuts, but also a wide range of policies that were going to be good for the economy at the point — unemployment insurance extensions, payroll tax extension — all of which made a difference, and is a part of the reason why what we’ve seen now is 32 consecutive months of job growth, and over 5 1/2 million jobs created, and the unemployment rate coming down.
But what I said at the time is what I meant, which is this was a one-time proposition. And you know, what I have told leaders privately as well as publicly is that we cannot afford to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. What we can do is make sure that middle-class taxes don’t go up.
Then a bit later:
So there is a package to be shaped, and I’m confident that parties — folks of good will in both parties can make that happen. But what I’m not going to do is to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent that we can’t afford and, according to economists, will have the least positive impact on our economy.
Q: You’ve said that the wealthiest must pay more. Would closing loopholes instead of raising rates for them satisfy you?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think that there are loopholes that can be closed, and we should look at how we can make the process of deductions, the filing process easier, simpler.
But when it comes to the top 2 percent, what I’m not going to do is to extend further a tax cut for folks who don’t need it, which would cost close to a trillion dollars. And it’s very difficult to see how you make up that trillion dollars, if we’re serious about deficit reduction, just by closing loopholes in deductions. You know, the math tends not to work.
And I think it’s important to establish a basic principle that was debated extensively during the course of this campaign.
I mean, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. This was — if there was one thing that everybody understood was a big difference between myself and Mr. Romney, it was, when it comes to how we reduce our deficit, I argued for a balanced, responsible approach, and part of that included making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay a little bit more.
I think every voter out there understood that that was an important debate, and the majority of voters agreed with me, not — by the way, more voters agreed with me on this issue than voted for me.
So we’ve got a clear majority of the American people who recognize if we’re going to be serious about deficit reduction, we’ve got to do it in a balanced way.
The only question now is, are we going to hold the middle class hostage in order to go ahead and let that happen? Or can we all step back and say, here’s something we agree on. We don’t want middle- class taxes to go up. Let’s go ahead and lock that in. That will be good for the economy. It will be good for consumers. It will be good for businesses. It takes the edge off the fiscal cliff. And let’s also then commit ourselves to the broader package of deficit reduction that includes entitlement changes and it includes, potentially, tax reform, as well as I’m willing to look at additional work that we can do on the discretionary spending side.
So I want a — a big deal. I want a comprehensive deal. I want to see if we can, you know, at least for the foreseeable future provide certainty to businesses and the American people, so that we can focus on job growth, so that we’re also investing in the things that we need.
But right now what I want to make sure of is, is that taxes on middle-class families don’t go up, and there’s a very easy way to do that. We could get that done by next week.
Sounds pretty firm to me.