President Obama is hitting the hustings in a campaign-style push for tax increases, and his first stop is Pennsylvania — a battleground state with the kinds of Republicans who he thinks could be amenable to being swayed by grass-roots pressure.
Since his re-election three weeks ago, Mr. Obama has stuck to his campaign message that raising taxes on high earners is the best way to reduce the nation’s soaring deficits and avoid veering off the so-called “fiscal cliff.” He has spent the past two weeks trying to drum up additional public support for the plan, resisting GOP efforts to find the revenue strictly in other areas of the tax code by closing loopholes and eliminating deductions.
Instead of meeting with congressional leaders, Mr. Obama has focused on trying to build more support for his plan outside Washington — sitting down with small-business owners and big-business leaders to rally their support and holding a photo-op with a group of supportive middle-class Americans as the backdrop.
“The American people are watching what we do,” Mr. Obama warned at a Wednesday event at the White House. “When the American people speak loudly enough, lo and behold, Congress listens. It’s too important for Washington to screw this up.”
He will conclude the week with a trip to Hatfield, Pa., and in a nod to the approaching Christmas holidays, a speech at a toy-manufacturing plant Friday on the urgency of preserving tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000.
The choice to return to Pennsylvania, a state Mr. Obama won by 5 percentage points, is inherently political. Eleven of the state’s 19 members of Congress are Republicans, most from swing districts, and with enough public pressure could provide a good chunk of Republican votes for a debt-reduction deal that includes raising taxes on high-earners.
All but one of the state’s GOP delegation — retiring Rep. Todd Russell Platts — have signed a pledge not to raise taxes, and for now appear to be sticking by it. But even Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., a Democrat and ally of Mr. Obama, has so far refused to say whether he would support a deal raising taxes. As chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, the newly re-elected Mr. Casey has scheduled a Dec. 6 hearing to listen to advocates from opposing sides.
But if Republicans are feeling any pressure after a week of Mr. Obama’s efforts to build support for his plan outside Washington, they aren’t showing it. Republicans this week blasted Mr. Obama for posturing to the public instead of sitting down and negotiating with them in good faith.
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, the administration point man for the talks, met with House Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday, but afterward the two Republican leaders said the White House was stepping backward in the negotiations and failed to provide specific plans on cuts to entitlement spending.
“To date, the administration has remained focused on raising taxes and attending campaign-style events, with no specific plans to protect Medicare and Social Security or reduce our national debt in a meaningful way,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “This is a real problem. Every day they delay brings us one step closer to the ‘fiscal cliff’ that we simply must avoid.
The White House pushed back, arguing that Mr. Obama is simply trying to engage the American people.
“It’s entirely appropriate for the president to go out and present to American businesses and ordinary Americans his views on this and to ask them to let their voices be heard here in Washington,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Other than keeping the pressure on Republicans, there’s really no need for Mr. Obama to extend the pitch to the American people. Throughout the campaign, polls repeatedly showed that a substantial majority of Americans backing higher taxes on high earners.
Continuing to barnstorm the country well after the presidential re-election campaign is over hasn’t worked so well for presidents in the past.
President George W. Bush burned up his 2004 re-election political capital by barnstorming the country on his “60 stops in 60 days” for a Social Security overhaul that never materialized.
Even though Congress ended up passing the 2010 health care law, Mr. Obama’s travel around the country promoting it in the weeks ahead of the vote may have hurt more than it helped.
Polls before the president’s final health care tour in March 2010 showed slightly more Americans opposing the health care bill than supporting it. Later that month, voters disapproved of the bill 49 percent to 40 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll taken the week after the House vote in late March.
After the bitter, partisan battle health care battle, a wave of conservative anger over the health care law propelled Republicans into the House majority in the November 2010 elections.