In the past few days we have learned that Congress wants to tax the “rich” to pay for Obamacare, but even a tax on the rich cannot pay for Obamacare. So the money will have to come from the middle class, but the president promised no middle class tax hikes and a break with that promise will hurt Obama’s credibility as much as George HW Bush’s break with his tax pledge hurt his.
But Obama WILL break his tax pledge, well, it will be more like wiggling his way out of his way out of it.
The middle class will have their taxes increased, in two different ways, through the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts, which he will be able to easily explain away, and through a national VAT (Sales Tax) which will enable him to say that he didn’t touch the tax rates of the middle class:
Teeing Up the Middle Class
Joe the Plumber’s tax vindication is nigh.
Few of President Obama’s 2008 campaign pledges were more definitive than his vow that anyone making less than $250,000 a year “will not see their taxes increase by a single dime” if he was elected. And he was right, very strictly speaking: It’s going to be many, many, many billions of dimes.
Asked about raising taxes on the middle class on Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” White House economist Larry Summers wouldn’t repeat Mr. Obama’s pre-election promise. “It is never a good idea to absolutely rule things out no matter what,” Mr. Summers said—except, apparently, when his boss is running for office. Meanwhile, on ABC’s “This Week,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also slid around Mr. Obama’s vow and said, “We have to bring these deficits down very dramatically. And that’s going to require some very hard choices.”
These aren’t even nondenial denials. The Obama advisers are laying the groundwork for taxing the middle class while claiming the deficit made them do it.
The liberal establishment is even further along in finally admitting that Mr. Obama wasn’t, er, telling the truth. A piece in the New York Times over the weekend declared in a headline that “the Rich Can’t Pay for Everything, Analysts Say.” And it quoted Leonard Burman, a veteran of the Clinton Treasury who now runs the Brookings Tax Policy Center, as saying that “This idea that everything new that government provides ought to be paid for by the top 5%, that’s a basically unstable way of governing.” They’re right, but where were they during the campaign?
In an editorial on February 26, “The 2% Illusion,” we wrote that the feds could take 100% of the taxable income of everyone in America earning more than $500,000 and still have raised only $1.3 trillion even in the boom year of 2006. The rich are fewer and less rich now, while the Obama budget is nearly $4 trillion.
Democrats have already taxed the middle class by raising cigarette taxes to pay for the children’s health-care expansion. They’re also teeing up average earners with their cap-and-tax energy bill. Mr. Obama had hoped that cap-and-tax would raise some $646 billion over a decade, but Democrats in the House had to give most of that away in bribes to business to pass their bill. To finance ObamaCare, they’re also proposing another 10-percentage-point increase in the payroll tax on firms and individuals that don’t purchase health insurance. But this won’t raise enough money either.
So waiting in the wings is the biggest middle-class tax increase of them all: a European-style value added tax, or VAT. This tax would apply to every level of production or service, and it is beloved by politicians in Europe because it raises so much money so easily without voters noticing. Ezekiel Emanuel, a White House aide and brother of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, has advocated a 10% VAT to finance national health care. Look for a VAT to be one of the prominent options when Mr. Obama’s tax reform commission issues its report later this year.
The undeniable reality is that you can’t run a European-style welfare-entitlement state without European-style levels of taxation on the middle class (and eventually without low European-style growth and high jobless rates). It’s looking more and more like Mr. Obama’s no-middle-class-tax pledge was one of the greatest confidence tricks in American political history.