About Those Loopholes, Mr President

I think Patrick Brennan is right to be suspicious of this kind of evasion:

These are not the words of a president serious about cutting the debt. Cutting “waste” in government isn’t going to get you anywhere near what you need. And the president needs to get serious about the burgeoning long-term costs of Medicare. That requires real honesty about real future sacrifice – not blandishments about how we might be able to bend the cost curve slightly. But my main beef, as is Brennan’s, is the way Obama talks about tax reform. Money quote:

There is no doubt we need additional revenue, coupled with smart spending reductions in order to bring down our deficit. And we can do it in a gradual way so it doesn’t have a huge impact. And as I said, when you look at these deductions that certain folks are able to take advantage of, the average person can’t take advantage of them. The average person doesn’t have access to Cayman Island accounts, the average person doesn’t have access to carried interest income, where they end up paying a much lower rate on millions of dollars that they earn.

I don’t disagree with any of that. Who but Mitt Romney would? I’d love those loopholes to be closed. But that’s not real, serious revenue-raising tax reform. It’s old-school class demagoguery, not 2008 Obama honesty. If we are to control future debt, and to do so in part through ending tax deductions, we simply have to include the mortgage deduction, the state tax deduction, and the charity deduction – or find a way to cap those deductions past a certain income level. Nothing else comes close to making a difference. And yes, that means the middle class will get hurt a little. That’s what “additional revenue” in the amount required entails.

So less about the Cayman Islands and more about the sacrifices we need to make, please. I really hope the ACA reduces healthcare costs, but I don’t think it’s fiscally responsible to rely on experiments that may well yet fail. Baiting the super-rich is easy. Reducing the deficit responsibly is extremely hard – unless this president is prepared to be blunter and clearer than he was in this interview. And this, recall, is at the beginning of his second term, with maximal leverage at his disposal.

If you want to go small, Mr President, and leave the real debt cutting to your successor, that’s your prerogative. But it is not the change we believed in. Or voted for.