Tax On Millionaires Would 'Shore Up' Obama's Base

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As part of his plan to reduce the federal budget deficit, President Obama is expected to propose a tax aimed at the wealthy. Republicans have countered that any tax on millionaires would be "class warfare."

STEVE INSKEEP, host: And you heard Scott say part of this is politics. Let's talk about that part with NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays. Cokie, good morning once again.


INSKEEP: Glad you're with us. Glad you're with us.

ROBERTS: Yes. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: Now, let's just note a couple of things that Scott said there. Speaker John Boehner said forget about new taxes and a couple of days later, we hear about the president's plan for a millionaires' tax. Why now?

ROBERTS: Well, because his Democratic base is getting restive, and this is good politics. And as Scott just said, there are not that many millionaires out there, so he's not going to offend too many people. You know, when he was talking about taxing above $250,000, that was a much trickier level because you could get - in some jurisdictions, you could get a policeman and a teacher, and get close to that in joint income.

But a million - that works for the politics, and it leaves the Republicans saying this is class warfare. That's a term that they have tested over and over. And they think it works for them but probably not in this environment, when people are quite mad and feeling like the fat cats are getting everything.

So the president is doing something that's likely to be popular, and he needed to do something to shore up his base. He's been looking at recent polls that are showing problems there. The New York Times had a headline over the weekend: Support for Obama Slips Among Base.

That's the kind of thing that, you know, you're in the president's re-election campaign and your heart drops when you see it, because he's already been having problems with independents who, of course, he needs to get re-elected. And what you're seeing is that, combined with a couple of off-year special elections - Democrats getting very restive. And the president needs to do something to get them excited.

INSKEEP: Of course, the cliche when you're in trouble is, don't panic. But former Clinton adviser James Carville has been saying the last few days: No, no, no, no; panic, panic!

ROBERTS: Well, James Carville is, you know, a dramatic sort of fellow, but he says that the president should fire someone. The question, of course, is who. If the president fired his economic team, which is his second economic team - with the exception of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner, this is all a new bunch of people - he would really be taking total ownership of the economy.

The effect of it would be to say, well, maybe if I get a new bunch of people in here, we can fix it. And what he's been saying is, you know, I've inherited a bad situation. It's going to be slow. It takes some time.

INSKEEP: It would also be admitting that he screwed up, basically.

ROBERTS: Well, that's right. So, you know, what good does that do? Carville has been kind of cagey about whether he thinks that Bill Daley, the president's chief of staff, should be fired, but - 'cause he says Daley is an old friend - but look, I remember when Jimmy Carter fired his entire Cabinet. And it was a disaster for him and really, he never really completely recovered from it.

Look, the president is hoping that when people look at the contrast with the Republican opponent, he will do much better. And those Republicans are having yet another debate this week. And the president can point both to presidents who were doing worse in the polls at this point in their terms and won, and better at this point in the polls - of their terms, and lost. But still, it's not a good time for him.

INSKEEP: Also, not a good time for him because of the publication of a new book by Ron Suskind, it's coming out tomorrow. We're already hearing about it. And it's a lot of back-biting from inside the White House, or people who were inside the White House.

ROBERTS: Right, and it quotes a former economic adviser, Larry Summers, who's saying: We're home alone here. We have no leadership. And that's giving the Republicans all kinds of material. And it quotes women in the administration as saying that it's a hostile work environment. Now, they have been - denials of this from the key players, saying that they either didn't say it or it was taken out of context. And look, again, by the time of the election next year - a year from now, more - this will be completely insignificant.

But at the moment, it doesn't really help the president, who is already having many problems.

INSKEEP: In just a couple of seconds, do people outside Washington pay attention, though, in this moment, to these kind of anxieties?

ROBERTS: Yes, I think for, you know - the people who are interested in politics do see this and say either, oh my goodness, is it really that bad? Or Republicans take it and say, see? Told you so.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much, as always. NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Monday mornings.


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