Lead? Who, Me?

Earlier today, I wrote about President Obama’s press conference today, and John Boehner’s strong response. Now, having had an opportunity to read the transcript of Obama’s press conference/campaign appearance, I have some additional comments. My overarching observation is that Obama’s performance exemplified his chronic inability to lead. Here’s why:

But there are more steps that we can take right now that would help businesses create jobs here in America.  Today, our administration is trying to take those steps, so we’re reviewing government regulations so that we can fix any rules in place that are an unnecessary burden on businesses.

President Obama has been in office for two and a half years now. If there are steps he can take “right now” that will help create jobs, why didn’t he take them a long time ago?

In addition to the steps that my administration can take on our own, there are also things that Congress could do right now that will help create good jobs.

The Democrats controlled Congress from January 2007 until January 2011, and they still control the Senate. If there are lots of things Congress can do “right now” to help create jobs–and Obama enumerated several–why didn’t the Democrats do them long ago?

Altogether, Obama repeated the phrase “right now” 16 times in the context of expressing urgency about things either his administration or Congress should be doing. Where has that urgency been for the last two and a half years?

Right now, Congress can advance a set of trade agreements that would allow American businesses to sell more of their goods and services to countries in Asia and South America -– agreements that would support tens of thousands of American jobs while helping those adversely affected by trade.  That’s pending before Congress right now.

Like the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which will significantly expand American exports? The Bush administration negotiated it in 2006, but the Democrats in Congress have blocked it because their labor bosses oppose it. President Obama has shown zero leadership on the issue. Consider me cynical, but I don’t expect his words today to indicate any change in his past policy, which has been one of servitude to union bosses.

Of course, one of the most important and urgent things we can do for the economy is something that both parties are working on right now –- and that’s reducing our nation’s deficit.

Sometimes the things Obama says are so breathtakingly hypocritical, or–this is the other possibility–stupid, that it is hard to know what to make of them. Now, he realizes that “one of the most important and urgent things we can do for the economy” is “reduc[e] our nation’s deficit.” Really? Just when did he figure that out? Because in February of this year, he offered a budget for FY 2012 that contemplated, even based on the ridiculously rosy assumptions embedded in the numbers, burgeoning deficits as far as the eye could see. I wrote about that budget here, as well as on several other occasions. It is worth reproducing this graphic, taken directly from Obama’s FY 2012 budget proposal, which shows that, once again using the most optimistic possible assumptions, he intended to add more than $7 trillion in new debt between FY 2012 and FY 2021:

Obama’s budget was so grotesquely irresponsible that it was voted down in the Senate 97-0. Not a single Democrat would vote for it. So, some time between February and today Obama figured out that trillions of dollars in federal debt represent a serious problem. This is leadership?

The tax cuts I’m proposing we get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires; tax breaks for oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners.
It would be nice if we could keep every tax break there is, but we’ve got to make some tough choices here if we want to reduce our deficit.  And if we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we’ve got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship. 

And before we ask our seniors to pay more for health care, before we cut our children’s education, before we sacrifice our commitment to the research and innovation that will help create more jobs in the economy, I think it’s only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up a tax break that no other business enjoys.

This is frankly pathetic. Obama talked about “corporate jet owners” six times today. Apparently they are the key to his fiscal policy. Changing the depreciation rules on corporate jets would provide enough revenue to run the government for, what? Fifteen minutes? And then there is this: the Democratic Congress lightened taxes on corporate jets as part of the stimulus package in order to help the aircraft industry:

Just a few months after lawmakers scolded auto executives for flying to Washington in private jets, Congress approved a tax break in the stimulus package to help businesses buy their own planes.

The incentive — first used to help plane makers recover from the 2001 terror attacks — sharply reduces the up front tax bill for companies who buy assets like business planes.

As for the oil companies, they are already paying far more than their fair share. As we have noted before, when real estate taxes and other taxes are taken into account, Exxon Mobil pays more money in taxes than it earns profits on its American operations. Further, the Institute for Energy Research pointed out today:

Oil and gas companies hand over 40 percent of their net income to the taxman. That is on top of rents, royalties, and other fees – a combined $86 million every single day of the year.

For example, just look at America’s two largest oil and gas companies – ExxonMobil and Chevron. While these companies had combined profits of $16.9 billion in the first three months of 2011, they paid over $12.8 billion in income taxes over the same exact period.

If President Obama wants to squeeze more revenue from the oil and gas industry, he should stop withholding the necessary permits for producing homegrown energy and instead encourage industry to produce more domestic energy.

But that would make the country more prosperous, and thereby run afoul of Obama’s base. He continued:

And the revenue we’re talking about isn’t coming out of the pockets of middle-class families that are struggling.  It’s coming out of folks who are doing extraordinarily well and are enjoying the lowest tax rates since before I was born.

If you are a wealthy CEO or a health — hedge fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they have ever been.  They’re lower than they’ve been since the 1950s.  And you can afford it.  You’ll still be able to ride on your corporate jet; you’re just going to have to pay a little more.

What on earth is Obama talking about? The current top marginal federal income tax rate is 35%. This chart is from Wikipedia, but I believe it is accurate. The top marginal rate was 28% for a time during the 1980s. As for the 1950s, that was the era of highest-ever top marginal rates:

Obama’s claim isn’t true for capital gains, either; in fact, they went up this year. The more you listen to Obama, the more you realize he has no idea what he is talking about. When in doubt, he just makes stuff up. Here is an idea: let’s get Michele Bachmann to repeat Obama’s tax claims tomorrow. Within fifteen minutes every news outlet in America will be telling us how stupid she is. No, wait–that won’t work. Michele is a former tax lawyer, and knows better.

We could continue with Obama’s performance today, but there is little point. It was a typical exercise in evasion of responsibility.

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