By insisting on tax increases on the wealthiest Americans — and promising to veto any deficit-reduction plan that cuts federal benefits without such a tax hike — President Obama won over at least two of his most high-profile and influential critics on the left.
Obama laid out his position in a fiery speech Monday delivered from the White House Rose Garden.
“This is a new Barack Obama. This is a feisty president who is in an election year contest right now,” says Robert Reich, the Clinton-era labor secretary and prominent liberal economist who has often criticized Obama and his earlier economic policies as too tepid or ineffectual to benefit the American poor and middle class.
However, with his Monday statements, the president now has made tax increases on the richest Americans the big battle to come in the 2012 election, Reich says, speaking Monday night on MSNBC.
“And what the president is saying is, Americans are on their backs,” Reich says. “Most Americans are either jobless or afraid of losing their jobs or their wages are going down. They can`t make ends meet. And you at the top, you have got to play your part — enough of this. And I think most Americans say, yes, that is a moral argument that I agree with.”
Now a professor at the University of California, Reich says he would give Obama an “A minus” for the new, forceful policy he unveiled Monday.
Meanwhile, Obama also won key support from Sen. Bernie Sanders, the left-leaning Vermont independent.
“At a time when 25 million Americans don’t have a full-time job and when millions of middle-class Americans have slipped into poverty, I am glad that the president has listened to the American people and will not balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor,” Sanders says. “With the wealthiest people in this country becoming wealthier and large corporations enjoying huge profits, it is time that we end tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations and have them pay their fair share.
“President Obama is on the right path in calling for the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, for limiting deductions for those making more than $250,000 a year, and for closing special-interest tax breaks,” Sanders adds. “He also is right in seeing that ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can save our nation an additional $1 trillion.”
Sanders has been one of the loudest critics of Obama from the left, particularly when it appeared the president might be willing to cut Social Security benefits.
Indeed, the future of Social Security is one area where Sanders says he still has qualms about Obama’s deficit plan.
“As chairman of the Defending Social Security Caucus, I am pleased that the president has listened to many of us in Congress and to people around the country and will not cut Social Security benefits or raise the Medicare eligibility age,” Sanders says.
“I do, however, have serious concerns about some of the president’s proposals,” he adds. “For example, while it is true that middle class and working families need tax cuts, I disagree with taking the funds from Social Security. If this part of his program were enacted, nearly $300 billion would be diverted from the Social Security Trust Fund over a two-year period.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.