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Obama to Congress: Do the right thing

9/20/2011, 3:52 p.m.

Obama to Congress: Do the right thing

Editor’s note: Excerpted below is a portion of President Barack Obama’s remarks on economic growth and deficit reduction delivered Monday from the Rose Garden.

… And any [tax-code] reform should follow another simple principle: Middle-class families shouldn’t pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires. That’s pretty straightforward. It’s hard to argue against that. Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett.

It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million.

Anybody who says we can’t change the tax code to correct that, anyone who has signed some pledge to protect every single tax loophole so long as they live, they should be called out. They should have to defend that unfairness and explain why somebody who’s making  $50 million a year in the financial markets should be paying 15 percent on their taxes, when a teacher making $50,000 a year is paying more than that — paying a higher rate.  

Now, we’re already hearing the usual defenders of these kinds of loopholes saying this is just “class warfare.”  I reject the idea that asking a hedge fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare. I think it’s just the right the thing to do. I believe the American middle class, who’ve been pressured relentlessly for decades, believes it’s time that they were fought for as hard as the lobbyists and some lawmakers have fought to protect special treatment for billionaires and big corporations.

Nobody wants to punish success in America. What’s great about this country is our belief that anyone can make it and everybody should be able to try — the idea that any one of us can open a business or have an idea and make us millionaires or billionaires. All I’m saying is that those who have done well, including me, should pay our fair share in taxes to contribute to the nation that made our success possible.

We shouldn’t get a better deal than ordinary families get. And I think most wealthy Americans would agree if they knew this would help us grow the economy and deal with the debt that threatens our future.

It comes down to this: We have to prioritize. Both parties agree that we need to reduce the deficit by the same amount — by $4 trillion. So what choices are we going to make to reach that goal? Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare. We can’t afford to do both.  

Either we gut education and medical research, or we’ve got to reform the tax code so that the most profitable corporations have to give up tax loopholes that other companies don’t get. We can’t afford to do both.