Amid some undefined policy strokes, President Obama made one thing certain in his deficit speech Wednesday afternoon: He will not keep tax cuts for the rich.
Focusing on taxes as he laid out a broad framework for lowering the deficit, Obama made some of the most direct and forceful statements we've heard from him in some time.
He refused, outright, to once again extend the Bush-era tax cuts that were temporarily renewed in December.
"We cannot afford one trillion dollars in tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. We can't afford it. And I refuse to renew then again," he said.
Obama has previously stated this opposition -- but on Wednesday he made his most direct declaration yet, and on the biggest stage. In doing so, Obama left no room for compromise in a debate that's expected to heat up during the 2012 presidential election, with those cuts set to expire once again in December of that year.
The president made taxes a central focus in attacking House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's 2012 budget, which the House will begin debating this week. That plan includes an extension of the Bush tax cuts, among other changes to the tax code.
Obama swore that the Ryan plan is "not right. And it's not going to happen as long as I'm president":
In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top one percent saw their income rise by more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That's who needs to pay less taxes?
They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut, that's paid for by asking thirty three seniors each to pay six thousand dollars more in health costs. That's not right. And it's not going to happen as long as I'm president.
And, as he's said before, Obama suggested that many wealthy Americans support his concept of what a progressive tax rate should look like:
I don't need another tax cut. Warren Buffett doesn't need another tax cut. Not if we have to pay for it by making seniors pay more for Medicare, or by cutting kids form Head Start, or by taking away college scholarships that I would not be here without and that some of you would not be here without.
And here's the thing: I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me. They want to give back to their country, a country that's done so much for them.
All this is to say that, while he didn't lay out too many specifics in the speech, Obama took a hard line against the notion of lowering taxes or extending lower rates for wealthy Americans while at the same time cutting spending on social welfare programs. His plan does involve some cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, but not on the order that Ryan has proposed.
It's an ideological line he's drawn before, but the major function of his speech Wednesday seemed to make that line brighter as the possibility of spending actual reforms feels like it's looming.
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