Public support for President Obama increased last week as a result of his successful negotiations with the Republicans. He gave the Republicans what they wanted — a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and to the top one percent of taxpayers, 26.8 percent of the extended tax reductions.
The President’s compromise with the Republicans also included the reduction in the estate tax from 55 percent to 35 percent plus increasing the nontaxable estate from one to five million for a single person and two to ten million for couples. Several commentators say these measures should help spur the economy, which if it happens will help President Obama get reelected in 2012.
My own belief is that the estate tax, called the death tax by Republicans, should not be at a higher rate than individuals pay as income taxes. The Republican argument that the deceased have already paid income taxes on the wealth they have earned has some merit. Republicans say that those seeking higher income taxes on the wealthy are engaging in class warfare. Senator Schumer has defined wealthy as having an income of $1 million or more.
Republicans should realize, however, that we do have a progressive income tax where the wealthy are expected to pay more. Regrettably, as I have pointed out in a prior commentary, many of the wealthy do not. One of the least known tax injustices was revealed by The New York Times when it pointed out that the top 400 taxpayers who earned $250 million on average in 2005 paid income taxes at a 17.2 percent rate. That rate is lower than that of a family making between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, which is 17.4 percent. It is a continuing outrage that under our tax code some of the wealthy pay a lower percentage of income taxes than the middle class.
However, the Republicans and Independents who now say nice things about the President and are deliriously happy that he abandoned his left-wing Democratic base will not in all probability be part of the reelect Obama campaign. They will not carry his petition to get him on state ballots or ultimately vote for him. His Democratic base will probably come back to him between now and 2012, there being no Democrat on the horizon interested in running against him.
Nevertheless, the intense anger directed at the President was reflected in the House Democratic Caucus when only one Democrat supported his tax package which now includes all the Bush tax cuts. It was shocking for many Democrats that at the bill signing which every Republican legislative leader attended, neither Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor Majority Leader Harry Reid put in an appearance.
I found it amusing that when the President announced the names of those joining him at the signing ceremony, he used their full names until he got to Mitch McConnell, the Republican Minority Leader, referring to him simply as “Mitch.” Up to now Mitch was “Dr. No,” and someone the President had not met with for 18 months.
On the other hand, the President may still find the Democratic House Caucus returning to his corner as a result of the enormous success he had in putting together the coalition, including eight Republicans, that voted to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation. The bill passed by a 65 to 31 margin giving gays and lesbians in the military the right to serve with honor without concealing their sexuality.
I was sorry to see the so-called “Dream Act” defeated which would have given a path to citizenship to those, who as children, were illegally brought into this country by their parents. The Times described the bill as a “path to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, completed two years of college or military service and met other requirements, including passing a criminal background check.” The bill received a positive vote of 55 to 41, but not the super majority of 60 needed to avoid the filibuster, and was withdrawn.
I oppose amnesty for adults responsible for their actions who illegally enter this country. However, I support it for children who were brought here. I believe the Republicans will rethink their position next year as 2012 approaches, and they worry more about the Hispanic vote. If the Dream Act becomes their number one issue, they will likely reward the more supportive Democrats with their votes rather than Republicans who blocked the bill’s passage.
President Obama, through luck, talent, and a Clintonian ability to adapt to new times, appears to have the proverbial nine lives of a cat. If the President's compromises turn the economy around, resulting in his reelection, then he will have the last laugh in 2012.
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The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served New York City as its 105th Mayor from 1978 to 1989.