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Columbia Missourian

J. KARL MILLER: The president should offer meaningful compromise on 2013 budget

By J. Karl Miller
December 5, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST

Along with many other serious political observers, I had hoped the president's election to a second term would enable him to junk his "I won" attitude and work to bring the nation together, rather than continue a vigorous campaign to rub the losers' noses in the dirt. We have seen enough divisiveness to last several lifetimes.

Sadly, his proposal to solve the financial crisis before the nation collectively plunges over the "fiscal cliff" is more of the same. His emissary, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, delivered an offer requiring $1.6 trillion in additional tax revenue from the top 2 percent, $50 billion in additional stimulus spending, extending unemployment insurance for one year, a year of kicking the sequester down the road and using unilateral presidential authority to raise the debt ceiling.

His sole concession to the Republicans — perhaps next year, in 2014, the White House will agree to "discussions" in cutting up to $400 billion dollars in entitlement reform and maybe even take up deficit reduction. (As I recall, presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush both were burned by Democrats' "tax now and cut spending later" promises.) If this is his idea of a balanced approach, I would not like to see his notion of a plan skewed to his advantage.

It should be abundantly clear to everyone that "to the victor belong the spoils" — the Republican bargaining position is severely weakened by the Democrats' elective gains in the House and the Senate. House Speaker John Boehner recognized this reality up front and offered serious concessions for increasing revenue.

Nevertheless, the president's position, even defined as an initial offer on the table, cannot be considered a serious proposal by any reasonable standards. And, if this is, in fact, his final word on the matter, it speaks volumes about his competence and character. He can and will blame Republicans for risking an unnecessary recession — that is little solace for those whose livelihood is endangered.

Let us, however, consider the relative strength of President Barack Obama's position today as opposed to four years ago. He had just been swept into the White House as the multicultural-hope-and-change candidate, anointed by much of the media as a modern Caesar.

He also won a second term, nearly sweeping the so-called "swing states." Nevertheless, while he still controls the bully pulpit and half the legislature, realistically, his legacy is now precarious. He was easily re-elected despite a continued sluggish economy and high unemployment — now, he will be forced to deal with reality.

All of the speechifying and celebrity testimonials notwithstanding, his initial four years in office yielded very little of substance. Family household income is down 8.1 percent since 2000 ($5,000 per household).

Also, the administration's attack on the "super rich" as being tax slackers is more than a little disingenuous. By what yardstick are those with incomes of $200,000 and $250,000 per year counted as millionaires? And by what mathematical logic should the top 1 percent of the earners who take home 17 percent of the income and pay more than 37 percent of the income taxes be taxed more?

It doesn't require extraordinary brain power to understand that a rather large number of those who pay little or no taxes are more than happy to see someone else, particularly the rich, be assessed a higher rate — they benefit through no effort of their own. But is picking the pockets of the better-off because a majority of the voters wish it so any way to run a country?

The Greeks have a word for this chicanery — ochlocracy, the interpretation of which is "mob rule."

Finally, in looking at this fiscal cliff and the consequences in failing to avoid it, do we really want to risk another recession by levying a tax increase on the top 2 percent, one that will gain but $82 billion in revenue against a daily government spending of $10.46 billion per day? That $82 billion in revenue would run the nation for about a week and would not reduce the deficit by one dime.

When one considers ending the "Bush tax cuts," it must be remembered that they included tax relief for all who paid taxes. I have no doubt the U.S. could recover from a return to the Clinton-era taxation; however, it would be a painful and traumatic experience, particularly for the middle class who suffer the most during a recession.

The reality this president must face is that the economy is now his and his alone. He held the reins for four years, two of them with a congressional majority and has always been blessed with at least one house of Congress. The "honeymoon" he enjoyed by blaming his predecessor is no longer available to him. Four years down the road, no one will remember George W. Bush — success or failure will belong to President Obama. 

This fiscal divide can and should be closed, but it will require meaningful tax and entitlement reform. Both parties must put ideologies on hold and fix that which is most important. The Republicans' "no tax increases" are hardly more unreasonable or idiotic than the Democrats' "entitlement programs are off the table."

Mr. President, for the sake of the country and for your legacy, it is time to lead. You won the majority of votes for the second time. Accordingly, you can afford a measure of humility and take the time, as did presidents Reagan and Clinton, to sit down with the congressional leadership to arrive at a solution.

Voting "present" is not an option.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.