During his last press conference, President Barack Obama focused, as he should have, on the fragile state of the economy. Much of his discussion was devoted to the difficult negotiations that lie ahead on the deficit, where the president has pushed hard for a “balanced” approach that requires some mix of spending cuts on the one hand with an inevitable increase in taxes on the other.
But just whose taxes should be increased, and why? On that particular question the president was quick to play the populist card by claiming that the nameless “millionaires and billionaires” ought to bear the brunt of these tax increases, which would otherwise fall on our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. “Corporate jet owners” figured into Obama’s rhetorical calculus on six separate occasions as he called upon an end to tax breaks on corporate jets.
One of the president’s key statements was as follows:
And if we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we’ve got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship. That means we’ve got to stop funding certain grants for medical research. That means that food safety may be compromised. That means that Medicare has to bear a greater part of the burden. Those are the choices we have to make.
And just to make sure that we did not miss the point, Obama added:
If you are a wealthy CEO or a hedge fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they have ever been. They’re lower than they’ve been since the 1950s. And you can afford it. You’ll still be able to ride on your corporate jet; you’re just going to have to pay a little more.
Such dubious logic explains why this nation finds itself in an economic pickle. To put the problem into high relief let us start with one particular corporate jet that needs no introduction: Air Force One, the corporate jet in the United States. Would we ever ground Air Force One? Of course not. So why has the president declared jihad against corporate jets? This is a question that I take up in my column this week for Defining Ideas.