During the Republican primary, it seemed like Mitt Romney was the luckiest guy in the world -- he was born rich and handsome, and his competitors were buffoons. Now it seems like President Obama is the lucky one. If you wanted to avoid campaigning on an unpopular law, who would you want for your opponent? Maybe a guy who passed the prototype of the law? And if you wanted to campaign on raising rich people's taxes, who would you want to run against? Maybe a guy who keeps his immense wealth in tax havens like the Cayman Islands, pays a 15 percent tax rate, and has donors who show up at fundraisers riding in Rolls Royces (as seen at left)? And maybe, just to top it all off, wouldn't it be nice to combine the two, so your only tax hike is the very same law your opponent built the model for?
On Monday, Obama called for a one-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 a year, the day after Mitt Romney's weeklong vacation at his $8 million vacation home and his Hamptons fundraiser for fancy people. Taxes have long been a good issue for Republicans, with Americans favoring them on the issue most of the time, aside from when President Bush grew more unpopular during his second term. Republicans still think they can win the upper hand on taxes, and they're planning a month of show votes -- votes in the House for stuff that has no hope of passing the Senate -- for which the grande finale will be a vote on taxes. An internal Republican poll found that 52 percent of registered voters think that stopping new regulations and extending the Bush tax cuts would "free" businesses to start hiring people, Politico's Jake Sherman and Seung Min Kim report.
And Republicans have been united in embracing the Supreme Court's ruling that Obamacare is constitutional because the individual mandate is a tax, with one exception: Mitt Romney. His aides initially said it wasn't a tax as a way to prevent Obama from pointing out that Romneycare included a mandate, too. The Wall Street Journal's editorial board was furious over it, because, as Slate's Dave Weigel explains:
Ideally, if you're a modern Republican presidential candidate, you get to run against a candidate who raised taxes. You can promise relief from those taxes. That's why, from a WSJ perspective, Romney so badly needs to frame the Obamacare penalty as a Middle Class Tax Hike. There's no other massive tax hike to run against!
Romney has since called Obamacare a tax. But now Obama wants to move on to talking about keeping tax rates low only for those making less than $250,000. "If Congress doesn't do this, millions of Americans, including these good-looking people behind me, could see their taxes go up," Obama said Monday. In case that was too subtle in suggesting he was on the side of wholesome American everymen instead of rich people, Obama added, "This is not just my opinion. The American people are with me on this. Poll after poll shows that's the case." This is actually true. Not only to Americans favor taxing the rich, they are more likely to think they pay a fair amount in income taxes than at any time since 1949.
Aside from the polls, there's another reason it's hard for Republicans to argue that taxes need to be cut: they're already really low. In May, the National Review's Thomas Sowell suggested that Republicans revived the arguments they made in the 1920s that cutting tax rates on the rich actually brings in more money to the treasury. Those arguments "eventually carried the day, when the top tax rate was brought down from 73 percent to 24 percent," he said. But the current top tax rate is not 73 percent. It's 35 percent. And as Bruce Bartlett explained in The New York Times, "the average federal income tax rate on the 400 richest people in America was 18.11 percent in 2008, according to the Internal Revenue Service, down from 26.38 percent when these data were first calculated in 1992." Romney, as Obama's campaign doesn't want us to forget, is paying even less than that.