April 12, 2011 — -- Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength--rich guys in favor of raising taxes on themselves and other wealthy people--say they are irritated over President Obama's failure to do just that.
Nor do they believe his latest announcement that he intends to try again, says Erica Payne, founder of the Agenda project and coordinator of the Patriotic Millionaires campaign.
The president, when a candidate in 2008, had recommended ending the Bush tax cuts for households earning over $250,000 a year. But he conceded that point when he signed into law in 2010 an agreement with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts two more years.
It's that concession that has disappointed and rankled Patriotic Millionaires, curdling their feelings. "The administration cut the deal they felt they needed to cut," shrugs Payne. "But we disagreed wholeheartedly. The president's quick and easy capitulation on an issue with such solid moral elements was disheartening."
One of Obama's primary jobs, she says, is to be chief educator.
"He did not do a good job on this issue or on the one we are currently facing. There's a moral lens through which you have to view these choices."
On Sunday, the White House announced it would renew its attempt to increase taxes on the wealthy. That proposal is expected to be part of a speech the president will deliver later this week describing his long-range plan for strengthening the economy and dealing with the nation's debts and deficits.
Payne has little confidence the president will fare any better in the fight ahead than he fared against the Republicans in 2010.
"Allegedly, he was always in favor of raising taxes on people making over $250,000. In fact, he capitulated when pushed. He showed little marketing accumen. It's not a very auspicious beginning to what will be the continuing fight. He knows he won't get it through the House. It would surprise me greatly if he actually stepped up to fight for it."
In her view, the fight this time--over whether to raise the nation's $14 trillion debt ceiling--"ups the ante" and makes less likely an administration victory on forcing the wealthy to pay higher taxes.
"At the end of last year they had an easy fight, and they couldn't make the case. Now they have a much more difficult fight and a more difficult end point, which is raising the debt ceiling. He didn't make it when it was easy. I see no reason to think he'll do it now. This White house has been surprisingly inept at articulating what's sensible public policy. It's not ideologically driven one way or another."
Her group's members are, she says, are "just as irritated now as they were four months ago." And in the interim they have grown in number: Patriotic Millionaires now counts about 150 members.
Patriotic Millionaires earned headlines last winter when it ran ads calling on the President to let the Bush tax cuts expire on the wealthy. The ads read in part:
"We have done very well over last several years. Now, during our nation's moment of need, we are eager to do our fair share. We don't need more tax cuts, and we understand that cutting our taxes will increase the deficit and the debt burden carried by other taxpayers. Letting tax cuts for incomes over $1 million expire is an important step in that direction."
The statement was signed by 45 persons "who now or in the past earned an income of $1 million per year or more." They included Jerry Cohen of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, Grammy Award-nominated DJ, MOBY, Princeton Review founder John Katzman, and star attorney Guy Saperstein.
What's ahead for the group?
"We're in the process of doing a second public statement," says Payne, "probably next week or so. We're signing up for round two."