The White House isn't trying to tax the rich to pay for an extension of a classic welfare system. It's trying to tax the rich in exchange for preserving the entitlement system. Here's why the distinction matters.
The president's budget plan gave Republicans fresh ammo to claim "class warfare" against the White House, which wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans to pay for about half of its deficit reduction.
"Class warfare" is too strong. It's also too simple. The deal at the heart of the president's proposal is higher taxes for the rich with no serious changes to Social Security and health care services. The rich aren't being asked to pay for an expansion of the welfare state. They're being asked to pay for the preservation of the entitlement state.
This isn't class warfare. It's not about class. And it's hardly a war. It's an all-out commitment to keeping our promises to the seniors and the sick.
I hesitate to call this any form of war. It's senior-oriented policy meeting senior-oriented politics. For the last six decades, federal spending has gradually shifted from a defense-dependent and investment-heavy model -- in the 1950s, more than one of every two dollars went to defense -- to a income-redistribution and preservation-heavy model. We used our wealth in the 20th century to build and expand on a preservationist society, where $4 out of every $10 goes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Social Security faces a moderate, fixable challenge, and health care faces a more serious long-term challenge. Having guaranteed to seniors and the sick some services that are getting expensive much faster than the economy is growing, we've bought a pony that grew into a Clydesdale.