Obama may run Truman-style 2012 campaign

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama is eyeing a 2012 campaign modeled on President Harry Truman’s 1948 successful re-election campaign against Congress. First, however, the White House will send to Capitol Hill an assortment of “economy-boosting” legislation in a package that may include a major overhaul of the tax code.

“I’ll be putting forward, when they come back in September, a very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs, and to control our deficit,” Obama told a friendly audience at a Decorah, Iowa, campaign-event on Monday.

“My attitude is, get it done … [but] if they don’t get it done, then we’ll be running against a Congress that’s not doing anything for the American people, and the choice will be very stark and will be very clear.”

“My hope is that Congress is willing to take up tax reform,” he said. “So far they’ve said that they’re willing to do it, but so far we haven’t seen a lot of energy on the part of some folks in actually delivering on tax reform,” he added.

The potential success of Obama’s proposed strategy is unclear. The GOP nominee has not been selected and Obama’s approval rate has declined to 39 percentage points, according to Gallup. Also, Obama failed to get Republicans in Congress to approve a tax-boosting “Grand Bargain” during the debt ceiling talks, even though a deal would have bolstered his campaign-trail claims that he is a fiscal conservative and a consensus builder in Washington.

The run-against-Congress campaign strategy echoes the successful 1948 campaign of President Harry Truman, who also inveighed against a “do nothing” Congress while competing against a GOP presidential candidate.

The Republicans had a 60-vote majority in the House and passed many pro-growth bills that Truman signed into law. The House passed the Taft-Hartley union regulation bill and a landmark defense reform measure. It also enacted the forerunner to the current Clean Water Act. The House established the military ties that would become NATO and the the Marshall Plan, which helped revive the war-damaged European economies.

But Truman’s “do nothing” claim stuck, partly because the country was in a postwar recession.

Truman eventually pulled off a surprise victory over the expected winner, New York Gov. Thomas Dewey.

Obama did not describe the proposals he says he will send to Congress in September, but he did repeat a litany of measures that he has cited in stump speeches before. The proposals include an update of patent laws, a government backed infrastructure bank to fund state and local construction projects, tax increases on wealthy Americans, passage of three free-trade deals and extension of the temporary payroll tax cut.

Following a question from the audience, Obama also endorsed a major reform of the tax code.

The “super committee” of 12 legislators created by the debt ceiling deal could close “a bunch of these loopholes and tax breaks,” he said, which would allow Congress to “lower the overall rate, broaden the base.”

“It would be a fairer, easier system that would combine simplification with, actually, more revenue,” he said.

However, Obama also said he would oppose a reform that lowered the overall percentage of taxes paid by the wealthy. “I think it’s very important for us to maintain what’s called progressivity in the tax code,” the president said.

“You can reform the tax code where you just have a flat tax, for example,” he suggested. “The problem is, Warren Buffett would probably pay even less in taxes, and a lot of companies would pay even less in taxes, if you set up that system.”

The 2003 tax code signed by President George W. Bush increased the percentage of taxes paid by the wealthy.

For example, Bush’s cut ended income tax payments by roughly 10 million families, boosted the child tax credit and ensured that the poorest 40 percent of families do not pay income taxes,” according to an analysis by the Heritage Foundation.

Similarly, a December 2006 report by the Congressional Budget Office reported that the top 5 percent of taxpayers saw their share of all federal income taxes rise from 56.6 percent to 58.4 percent.”

During his speech, Obama said he agreed in December to continue the Bush-approved tax cuts because their end would have been painful to middle-class families. Ending the taxes “would have meant that the average family saw their taxes go up $3,000 on average, at a time when they were still digging themselves out of a debt hole,” he said.

“It would have been very bad for the economy,” he said.

If the Republican Congress does not cooperate with his proposals, “I will take my case to the American people,” he said. If Republicans “want to sit there and do nothing for the next 16 months, while unemployment is still high and small businesses are still suffering, then ultimately they’re going to be held to account by you,” he told his audience.