By saying the rich should pay their 'fair share' in taxes, President Obama is taking up an argument that Democrats have largely avoided for years. With a presidential election and 'supercommittee' budget cuts in the balance, the political stakes could hardly be higher.
President Obama’s $3 trillion debt plan, unveiled on Monday, refocused Congress’s debt debate on two of the most divisive questions in politics: Who is rich? What is fair?
In a sense, these issues are elemental to any tax-and-spend issue in Congress. But by hitting them so directly – and challenging voters to side with him in the debate – Mr. Obama is taking Democrats to a place they have have largely avoided since the 1984 presidential election, when President Reagan routed Walter Mondale.
Not only is a presidential election again in play this time, but a new, congressional "supercommittee" charged with trimming $1.2 trillion from the deficit is just getting started, raising the stakes further. How the debate plays out could play a central role in whether the joint committee can find common ground or whether it descends into stalemate.
“It’s been a key argument of liberals that sacrifice should be shared, especially when times are hard,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “Since Walter Mondale got in trouble in 1984, you’ve heard a lot less of it.”
The argument revived somewhat during debate over the Bush tax cuts, and “President Obama is talking about it a lot more now,” he adds.
In a Rose Garden address on Monday, the president challenged Republicans to defend a tax code that requires middle-class families to pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires.
“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,” he said.