Editor’s note: Excerpted below is a portion of President Barack Obama’s remarks on economic growth and deficit reduction delivered Monday from the Rose Garden.
… And any [tax-code] reform should follow another simple principle: Middle-class families shouldn’t pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires. That’s pretty straightforward. It’s hard to argue against that. Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett.
It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million.
Anybody who says we can’t change the tax code to correct that, anyone who has signed some pledge to protect every single tax loophole so long as they live, they should be called out. They should have to defend that unfairness and explain why somebody who’s making $50 million a year in the financial markets should be paying 15 percent on their taxes, when a teacher making $50,000 a year is paying more than that — paying a higher rate.
Now, we’re already hearing the usual defenders of these kinds of loopholes saying this is just “class warfare.” I reject the idea that asking a hedge fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare. I think it’s just the right the thing to do. I believe the American middle class, who’ve been pressured relentlessly for decades, believes it’s time that they were fought for as hard as the lobbyists and some lawmakers have fought to protect special treatment for billionaires and big corporations.
Nobody wants to punish success in America. What’s great about this country is our belief that anyone can make it and everybody should be able to try — the idea that any one of us can open a business or have an idea and make us millionaires or billionaires. All I’m saying is that those who have done well, including me, should pay our fair share in taxes to contribute to the nation that made our success possible.
We shouldn’t get a better deal than ordinary families get. And I think most wealthy Americans would agree if they knew this would help us grow the economy and deal with the debt that threatens our future.
It comes down to this: We have to prioritize. Both parties agree that we need to reduce the deficit by the same amount — by $4 trillion. So what choices are we going to make to reach that goal? Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare. We can’t afford to do both.
Either we gut education and medical research, or we’ve got to reform the tax code so that the most profitable corporations have to give up tax loopholes that other companies don’t get. We can’t afford to do both.
This is not class warfare. It’s math. [Laughter] The money is going to have to come from someplace. And if we’re not willing to ask those who’ve done extraordinarily well to help America close the deficit then the logic says, they are willing to put the entire burden on the middle class and the poor.
That’s unacceptable to me. That’s unacceptable to the American people. And it will not happen on my watch. I will not support — I will not support — any plan that puts all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary Americans. And I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share. We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks who are most vulnerable.
None of the changes I’m proposing are easy or politically convenient. It’s always more popular to promise the moon and leave the bill for after the next election or the election after that. That’s been true since our founding. George Washington grappled with this problem. He said, “Towards the payment of debts, there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; [and] no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant.”
But he also knew that public servants weren’t elected to do what was easy; they weren’t elected to do what was politically advantageous. It’s our responsibility to put country before party. It’s our responsibility to do what’s right for the future.
And that’s what this debate is about. It’s not about numbers on a ledger; it’s not about figures on a spreadsheet. It’s about the economic future of this country, and it’s about whether we will do what it takes to create jobs and growth and opportunity while facing up to the legacy of debt that threatens everything we’ve built over generations.
And it’s also about fairness. It’s about whether we are, in fact, in this together, and we’re looking out for one another. We know what’s right. It’s time to do what’s right.