Steady State

My wrap on the State of the Union, with a heavy focus on the theatrics, is up here. Sarah Kliff, ignoring the theatrics, focused on the policy; here’s her summary of the Big Things mentioned in the speech, the signposts for where the president wants to go, etc. and etc. I guess I’ve gotten cynical because I’ve heard more than one SOTU before. One year ago, this was how Obama closed the section of his speech about clean energy.

We need to get behind this innovation.  And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if – I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

And he said this last night:

We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.

Substantively, what’s the difference? To find something new, you had to compare what Obama said about tax policy between 2011, when he was staring down a new GOP majority, and last night, when he was looking more confidently at the 2012 elections. 2011:

Tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system.  Get rid of the loopholes.  Level the playing field.  And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit.  It can be done.


Right now, we’re poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else – like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.

It’s a more populist tone, sure. It’s also more doomed-sounding than the bromides of 2011. You can get House Republicans and some number of Senate Republicans on board with a War on Loopholes. But leading off by talking about the “wealthiest Americans?” That sends them scrambling back to their copies of The Fountainhead. (I kept an eye on Rep. Paul Ryan last night, who couldn’t have looked less impressed at this stuff if he was watching a flea circus.)