Obama Frames the Argument As Those Who Want to Do Something vs. Those Who Want to Do Nothing
February 10, 2009 - 9:32 AMAt news conference Monday night, President Obama said he's concerned about lawmakers who "just believe that we should do nothing" to stimulate the economy. Republicans say it's important to do something, as long as it works; and they believe tax cuts, not massive new government spending, are the answer.
Not true, say Republicans, who agree on the need for government action – but differ on how the stimulus plan should work.
Republicans say the only way to quickly stimulate the economy is to lower tax rates for individuals and small businesses.
But on Monday night, Obama would have none of it: “[A]s we've learned very clearly and conclusively over the last eight years, tax cuts alone can't solve all of our economic problems, especially tax cuts that are targeted to the wealthiest few Americans,” Obama said. “We have tried that strategy time and time again, and it's only helped lead us to the crisis we face right now.”
Obama urged Republicans to “come together” with Democrats in passing a plan that “combines hundreds of billions in tax cuts for the middle class with direct investment in areas like health care, energy, education, and infrastructure investments that will save jobs, create new jobs and new businesses, and help our economy grow again, now and in the future.”
In fact, Obama has enough votes in Congress to pass the plan, even though only three Republican senators are expected to vote for it on Tuesday. No House Republicans voted for the stimulus plan, and 11 House Democrats voted against it.
Republican critics say Obama’s tax cut plan amounts to welfare in some cases because it would provide rebates to people who don’t even pay taxes.
House Republicans want to reduce the lowest individual tax rates to 10 percent from 15 percent, and to 5 percent from 10 percent. “As a result, every taxpaying-family in America will see an immediate increase in their income,” ranging from $500 to $3,200 a year, says a summary of the Republicans alternative economic stimulus plan.
House Republicans also want to give small businesses a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their income. “This will immediately free up funds for small businesses to retain and hire new employees,” Republicans say.
“By letting families, small businesses, home-buyers, and job-seekers keep more of what they earn, the House Republicans’ economic recovery plan will create 6.2 million new American jobs over the next two years, at half the cost of the congressional Democrats’ plan,” says a release from House Republican Leader John Boehner’s office.
President Obama on Monday said he’s concerned about lawmakers who “just believe that we should do nothing.”
“Now, if that's their opening position or their closing position in negotiations, then we're probably not going to make much progress, because I don't think that's economically sound and I don't think that's what the American people expect, is for us to stand by and do nothing,” Obama said.
“There are others who recognize that we've got to do a significant recovery package, but they're concerned about the mix of what's in there [taxes vs. spending]. And if they're sincere about it, then I'm happy to have conversations about this tax cut versus that tax cut or this infrastructure project versus that infrastructure project.”
Far from wanting to do nothing, House Republican John Boehner has noted that Republicans “applaud President Obama for continuing to make the case for action from Congress to help our economy create and protect jobs.”
Boehner agrees that both parties must “tackle the challenge before us.” But he also insists that the Republicans’ tax-cutting plan would create twice as many jobs as the Democrats’ proposal – at half the cost.
“Unfortunately, the trillion-dollar plan moving through Congress takes us in the wrong direction, relying on slow-moving and wasteful Washington spending that will pile even more debt on future generations, providing less tax relief than requested by the President, and encouraging dependence on welfare programs that hurt Americans instead of helping them,” Boehner said in a news release. “The American people need our help, and they deserve better than this.”
On Monday, Obama said it’s fine for lawmakers to “differ on some of the particulars” of the stimulus plan, “but again, the question I think the American people are asking is, do you just want government to do nothing, or do you want it to do something? If you want it to do something, then we can have a conversation. But doing nothing, that's not an option from my perspective.”
Obama said he’s particularly concerned about “some of the language that's been used" by his critics -- "suggesting that this is full of pork and this is wasteful government spending, so on and so forth.”
The criticism comes from Republicans “who presided over a doubling of the national debt,” Obama said. “I'm not sure they have a lot of credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility.”
Later, Obama made the point that he has reached out to Republicans and consulted with them on the stimulus plan. He said Republicans “were pleasantly surprised and complimentary” about the tax cuts that were in the plan -- and which are still in the plan.
“I mean, I suppose what I could have done is started off with no tax cuts, knowing that I was going to want some, and then let them take credit for all of them, and maybe that's the lesson I learned. But there was consultation; there will continue to be consultation,” Obama said.
Obama said his goal over the next four years is to pull together people from both parties around a “pragmatic agenda.”
“And I think that there was an opportunity to do this with this recovery package, because, as I said, although there are some politicians who are arguing that we don't need a stimulus, there are very few economists who are making that argument. ...And so when I hear people just saying, ‘Ah, we don't need to do anything, This is a spending bill, not a stimulus bill,’ without acknowledging that by definition, part of any stimulus package would include spending — that's the point; then what I get a sense of is, is that there's some ideological blockage there that needs to be cleared up.”
Nevertheless, Obama declared himself “the eternal optimist.”
“I think that, over time, people respond to civility and rational argument. I think that's what the people of Elkhart and the people around America are looking for. And that's what I'm — that's the kind of leadership I'm going to try to provide.”