Bluffer in chief

Mark Impomeni Contributor
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President Obama’s tone at his Wednesday morning news conference is being described as “feisty” and “combative.” He is being hailed in the press for “pressuring” Republicans on the issue of the debt limit, and lecturing them on foreign policy issues such as his unauthorized war in Libya. The president’s performance would be better described by adjectives like acerbic and petulant. It was a mixture of blame-shifting, threats and tired partisan bromides that have no bearing on the debt problem and should play no role in the solution. Republicans shouldn’t feel pressured; they should sit back and play their hand.

Obama’s sole objective in the presser was to portray Republicans as the protectors of the rich at the expense of the middle class and the poor, not to offer any serious policy prescriptions. While the tactic certainly lacks in originality, Obama did find a new class of villain on whom to lay all the nation’s debt woes: corporate jet owners. No less than six times did Obama link Republicans with the new boogiemen, trying to make the case that if only the corporate jet owners paid their fair share, the nation’s coffers would be overflowing with cash.

Setting aside the fact that the most recent tax break for corporate jets was passed by the Democratic Congress in 2009 and signed by the president as part of his signature $787 billion stimulus package at the beginning of his term — which inconveniently came to light even as Obama was still speaking — the claim that ending tax breaks on “luxuries” raises revenue is demonstrably false. Anyone remember the luxury tax of the 1990s?

When President George H.W. Bush famously broke his “no new taxes” pledge, one of the new taxes was a 10 percent excise tax on the sale of luxury goods like fine jewelry, furs, high-end cars, yachts, and yes, corporate jets. But rather than increase revenues to the treasury, the luxury tax had the opposite effect. Demand for luxury items cratered, killing thousands of jobs in the boat-building, aircraft and jewelry industries, and ultimately causing a net loss to the government of over $7 million in 1991, the first year the tax was on the books. Repealing the corporate jet tax breaks Obama signed would have a similar effect today. Republicans have nothing to fear from this line of attack.

On the issue of raising the debt limit, Obama addressed the idea, advanced by Rep. Michele Bachmann and others, that the limit doesn’t have to be raised, only the interest on the debt needs to be paid to avoid a default. “So are we really going to start paying interest to Chinese who hold treasuries and we’re not going to pay folks their Social Security checks?” he mused. “Or we’re not going to pay to veterans for their disability checks? I mean, which bills, which obligations, are we going to say we don’t have to pay?” Obama said.

Here again, Republicans should stand firm and not be scared into capitulating on the debt limit. If the limit is not raised, it will be Obama’s and Obama’s responsibility alone, through Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, to decide which bills America is going to pay.

Much as he would like to escape that responsibility, it would be Obama who would have to explain to Social Security recipients and veterans why he chose to stop paying their benefits but keep funding the wildly unpopular Obamacare, for instance. It would be the president, not Republicans, who would have to explain why the administration continues to spend a couple of billion dollars a day in Libya while Medicare and Medicaid payments are stopped. And it would be Obama who would have to justify continued operations at the EPA and the shuttering of the VA.

It is President Obama who is feeling the pressure in the debt limit debate, and his demeanor at yesterday’s press conference demonstrates it. Like a down-on-his-luck gambler, he lashed out at everyone — the deck, the dealer and the House — in the vain hope that he could change the hand he was dealt. But the Republicans are holding all the cards. The American people are tired of the spending and fed up with the bickering. They want the budget cut and they want it cut now. Republicans should call Obama’s bluffs.

Mark Impomeni is a conservative opinion writer, blogger, and a former contributing editor at RedState.com.