Opinion: What Obama Can Learn from Cuomo on Raising Taxes

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 12:46 PM

President Barack Obama speaks on the economy and an extension of the payroll tax cut at Osawatomie High School December 6, 2011 in Osawatomie, Kansas. President Obama speaks on the economy in Osawatomie, Kansas. (Mandel Ngan/Getty)

Governor Andrew Cuomo proved something last week: it's possible to get Republicans to support revenue increases.  In his tax overhaul blitzkrieg, the governor tackled a policy and political problem together. He addressed the first - the state's budget shortfalls - not with demands for austerity but sensible taxes.  The second -- getting bipartisan buy-in -- was the more remarkable accomplishment.  He didn't just pick off a few fence-sitting members of the GOP; usually recalcitrant Republicans didn't cast a single dissenting vote in the State Senate, under their control.

Can President Obama do the same?  He has continued his campaign to focus on jobs, not cuts -- an effort aided by the Occupy movement's impact on the national debate.  The President's jobs address last week focused on investment, on the need for the wealthiest Americans to pay their share, and on the ripple affects job creation will have on our overall economy.  He's speaking the right language -- but still his American Jobs Acts flounders on Capitol Hill, where even a middle-class tax break was shot down by the GOP, and only an incentive to hire veterans has passed the gridlock.

The good news is that the President is not alone.  While his American Jobs Act -- like Cuomo's tax plan -- disappointed the Left on many fronts, progressives were ready to support it.  They also added their own ideas to the mix.  Representative Jan Schakowsky, in September, proposed the Emergency Jobs to Restore the American dream Act, with a goal of employing 2 million Americans for 2 years, a short-term and much-needed injection of workers into the American economy.  The Congressional Progressive Caucus, which had months before released a People's Budget, has backed job-creating initiatives bolder than the President's. 

Emboldened by Occupy Wall Street, more conservative Democrats, including Senate Leader Harry Reid, floated the proposal of a surtax on the wealthiest Americans.  Organizations like the New Bottom Line have proposed proactive steps to keeping Americans in their homes and slow the foreclosure crisis. Rebuild The Dream has assembled the Contract for the American Dream, with the input of hundreds of thousands of Americans, including a mix of measures to boost the economy and strengthen the economic security of the regular American family.

There is no shortage of policy solutions, but the second challenge - the political one - remains. Republicans in DC, and those who take the stage at the GOP Presidential debates, have shown no interest in budging.  Yet, one could have said the same about Dean Skellos and his gang in the New York State Senate.  What changed?

It's not that Cuomo's ideas are more compelling than Obama's or his charm more persuasive.  When the President addressed Congress in the fall, he introduced a jobs bill entirely composed of elements previously supported by both parties.  He opened the side door for the GOP to join him on stage, just as Cuomo did with last week's legislative achievement.  So why has Obama's plan been met with a stonewalled stalemate, and Cuomo's with unanimous assent?

First, the landscape is changing.  Over the spring and summer, it may have felt like the few voices speaking against the debt-mongering would never be heard.  Now, more Americans are prioritizing public action over private hoarding, and progressives are speaking from a bigger platform.  Obama's approach then may be more effective now than it was three months ago.

Secondly, it takes time to move national debate.  Often that leadership needs to come from the states.  Now that we've seen action in New York, it's not impossible to imagine progress elsewhere.  If State Senators are feeling pressure, members of Congress are next.  The events of the last week may not indicate that Cuomo has some different approach; rather that the strategy the President pushed in September may finally be finding its time

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."


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Comments [4]


I read that all spending bills must originate in the House - the same house that is held by the republicans who complain that Pres. Obama has not put forth a budget - why are we still at an economic stalemate? because jan '09 the republicans decided to put up a stone wall to subvert the Pres. elected by the people - and still the Pres managed to avert disaster and over around and through the stone wall eke out small growth - imagine if putting the country on solid footing was the goal of the hill instead of stone walling the Pres.

Jan. 04 2012 10:45 AM

The "power dynamics at play" last year also included the Democrat leadership not raising the debt ceiling and taxes quickly but deliberately leaving it for the Republican House for political reasons which caused a needless economic crisis that exists to this day with the super committee. Thanks

Dec. 15 2011 04:34 PM
Justin Krebs from NYC

Listener -

Good question. I know progressive organizers who were agitating for something like the People's Budget through all of 2010, but couldn't find the traction in Congress. Maybe it's a sign that folks there move slowly, or that there are power dynamics at play that control member actions more than we see. Maybe it's also why Paul Ryan got so much credit for proposing sweeping budget changes. They were terrible ideas, in my opinion, but he wasn't slow to act.

Dec. 15 2011 09:21 AM

Why wasn't the "people's budget" proposed when the Democrats controlled Congress last year when they offered no budget...the people's or otherwise?
Next month will be 1000 days since the Sen. Reid and the US Senate he leads passed any budget.
Earlier this year the Obama administration submitted a budget that was rejected by that same Senate 97-0.

Dec. 14 2011 06:37 PM

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