It’s fair to wonder what took him so long. Of course, it’s also fair to wonder just how populist and progressive is a proposal that also reduces Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
Obama’s answer is that he won’t accept one without the other — social safety net benefits go down on average Americans only if tax increases are placed on the super-wealthy.
Obama’s proposal to decrease the deficit by $3 trillion over 10 years includes expiration of the 2001 Bush tax cuts on Americans earning more than $250,000 a year as well as a further tax on those making more than $1 million.
The two-word response from Republicans is “class warfare.” Remarks made on Fox News Sunday by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., are an excellent example of what will be the Republican answer to Obama’s plan.
“Class warfare ... may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics,” Ryan said. “We don’t need a system that seeks to prey on people’s fear, envy and anxiety. We need a system that creates jobs and innovation and removes these barriers for entrepreneurs to go out and rehire people.”
The obvious question for Ryan and the countless Republicans concerned over Obama’s “class warfare” is: What kind of warfare led the nation to its current predicament?
Currently, a fortunate 1 percent of Americans control more than one-third of the nation’s wealth. The share belonging to the bottom 90 is 26 percent, a figure far less than the top 1 percent’s portion of 35 percent. (The source for these statistics is the Institute for Policy Studies.)
The top 1 percent of households take home 21 percent of U.S. pre-tax income. Thirty-two years earlier, the top 1 percent took in 8.9 percent of pre-tax income.
The real income of American families in the top 5 percent bracket increased by 73 percent from 1979 until 2009. Over the same 30-year span, the real income of the bottom 20 percent dropped by 7.4 percent.
The average corporate CEO takes home 185 times more salary than that of the average worker, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
The data tell a depressing tale of economic disparity in the United States. Following World War II, ordinary Americans began to see their wealth, standard of living and income increase. That trend began its long reverse in the 1970s and 1980s.
Today, the nation is deeply divided along lines of wealth and income, a stark division not seen since the early part of the previous century.
One class has clearly benefited over the past four decades while another has not seen anything close to a fair share. Those policies are the results of an ongoing class warfare that Obama’s ideological foes have successfully waged. They shouldn’t act so surprised that the president is returning fire.