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Liddick: Presidential dejà vu

Morgan Liddick

Welcome to Colorado, Mr. President. Although I don’t really care for taxpayers footing the bill for this re-election campaign stop, at least the state gets some national press coverage out of it.

I’m glad to see that this time your staff didn’t put you in front of a bridge scheduled for rebuilding, so that you could demand it be rebuilt. Gaffes like that make people wonder if James Carville was right – some folks just want firing.

Hopefully, they will also have persuaded you not to promote your income-transfer bill with the tired canard that America’s rich don’t pay as much taxes as their secretaries. Even the Associated Press isn’t buying that fib anymore. I expect we’ll hear instead that the rich aren’t “paying their fair share.” “Fair” is a wonderfully slippery concept, isn’t it? Everyone hears what they want; only some notice that in this context “fair” seems to mean that 10 percent of those paying Federal income tax should pay more than their current 70 percent of the total, while almost half of wage earners continue to pay nothing.

Yes, it’s good fun to talk about smacking investment bankers in the chops, until one realizes that without investment and lending there are going to be precious few new jobs, regardless of how many billions of borrowed dollars are poured down the black hole we call an economic recovery. Remember: What is taxed, shrinks.

And if I might add, stop hiding behind Warren Buffet. It’s unseemly.

An announcement more encouraging to job creation might be that you are going to give the officials developing new federal regulations a furlough; a year might be a good start. Or that your National Labor Relations Board will stop trying to force the country’s number-one export manufacturer to move its operations to Mexico or China, instead of South Carolina.

I wonder as well if your message fits the venue chosen for you. True, Westwood is an impoverished neighborhood; a Robin Hood message might well resonate there. And the fact that it is largely Latino couldn’t hurt the political calculation. But …

Much of the area’s poverty might be explained by the fact that only one-third of its adult residents have graduated from high school. In this economy, in this country, that’s fatal. And there are few conceivable uses of Colorado’s portion of your soak-the-rich plan that would make a dent in that situation. Money is necessary for education, but it is not the only factor. Or even the most important.

There are things to like about today’s appearance. The venue is very well-chosen; Abraham Lincoln High School has trebled its graduation rate over the past six years and has an enviable college-acceptance rate. Good things are happening there, and that bodes well for the future of Lincoln’s students.

There are also things to like in your proposals. Allowing the unemployed to continue to receive benefits while undergoing retraining or doing volunteer work is a good idea

Eliminating tax loopholes is also laudable. Even if wholesale reform of the tax code is unrealistic, simplification is a good goal. Start by, say, eliminating federal subsidies for ethanol production. That gets us $6 billion a year. Continue by eliminating tax breaks for other forms of “alternative” energy like wind and solar, which would add another $14.6 billion. Yes, your pet corporation, General Electric, would get hit with a substantial bill, but hey – it’s only “fair,” right?

If that causes the environmental nerve to throb, eliminate preferential tax treatments, such as they are, for fossil fuel producers. According to government figures, that would rake in about $6.6 billion a year. Let’s have a level playing field, and see which form of energy is actually the cheapest, shall we? Oh, and no coming up with additional environmental regulations to skew the results; fair is fair, right?

The hundreds of billions targeted at “infrastructure improvements” are also not bad. Makes me wonder why they weren’t in the 2009 Spendulus bill. Oh, wait – they were. To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s like dejà vu all over again.” One wonders why a better result is expected this time …

Other ideas are more questionable. Like further extending unemployment benefits to “long-term unemployed.” I know some of your critics refer to you as a “socialist,” but that’s no reason to rush headlong into the soul-destroying European system of “the dole.”

And the strings attached to education spending, that demand recipient states maintain current levels of K-12 funding through 2014. For Colorado, where education absorbs 40 percent of a budget facing $500 million of cuts next year due to “structural” problems, this requirement poses some nasty problems which people might overlook in their enthusiasm for “free money.” Until the bill comes due.

So again, Mr. President, welcome. And in the words of Jack Nicholson’s Joker, “Commence, au festival!”

Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. E-mail him at mcliddick@hotmail.com.


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