Good for Obama.
In a sometimes painful townhall session broadcast live on CNBC, the president took questions from Americans concerned about the economy and their own futures. The fear and anguish of at least a couple of questioners was palpable, and for the most part Obama didn’t try to sugarcoat what they and the country face.
At one point, however, a hedge fund manager stepped to the microphone to complain on behalf of Wall Street that the financial community was tired of being treated like a pinata. In his response, Obama pointed out that last year, the top 25 hedge fund managers earned an average of a billion dollars apiece. A billion bucks apiece. And he also suggested that a bit of perspective might be in order.
“Now, you know, I have been amused over the last couple years, this sense of somehow me beating up on Wall Street. I think most folks on Main Street feel like they got beat up on. I’ll be honest with you. There’s probably — there’s a big chunk of the country that thinks that I have been too soft on Wall Street. That’s probably the majority, not the minority…. It’s a two-way street. If you’re making a billion dollars a year after a very bad financial crisis where 8 million people lost their jobs and small businesses can’t get loans, then you shouldn’t feel put upon.”
At that point, the CNBC moderator jumped in to note that in the cover story in Forbes magazine, Obama is described as having an “anti-colonial attitude” toward business and that Steve Schwarzman, a prominent hedge-fund manager, had likened Obama’s proposed tax treatment of hedge-fund earnings as “a war … it’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”
Obama responded by pointing out that the hedge fund manager and his colleagues are paying a tax rate of 15 percent on what they earn, which is a considerably lower rate than their secretaries have to pay.
“The notion that somehow, me saying ‘Maybe you should be taxed more like your secretary, when you’re pulling home a billion dollars or a hundred million a year,’ I don’t think is me being extremist or anti-business,” Obama said. (See video excerpts below.)
Obama was also asked about ending the Bush tax cuts for those making $250,000 or more a year.
“What the Republicans are proposing … that we provide tax relief primarily to millionaires and billionaires,” he said. “It would cost us $700 billion to do it — on average millionaires would get a check of $100,000…. It is an irresponsible thing for us to do.”
“Here’s what I can’t do. I can’t give tax cuts to the top 2 percent of Americans — 86 percent of that money going people making $1 million or more — and lower the deficit at the same time. I don’t have the math. I’d love to do it. Anybody in elected office would love nothing more than to give everybody tax cuts — not cut services, make sure that I’m providing help to student loans, make sure that we’re keeping our roads safe and our bridges safe, make sure that we’re paying for our veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. At some point, the numbers just don’t work….”