Bloomberg sticks with the difficult position on national tax revenue

Michael Bloomberg. (Azi Paybarah, via flickr)
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Just hours after President Obama unveiled a 2013 budget plan that relies in good part on raising taxes on the rich, Mayor Michael Bloomberg indicated the president’s plan does not go far enough in raising revenue.

As he has done many times since late last year, he called for the elimination of all of the Bush-era tax cuts, saying, “It’s the only ways we’re gonna close the budget deficit.”

“And this populist thing of let’s only soak a handful of people—there isn’t much money in the handful of people,” said the mayor at a press conference in Manhattan earlier today. “We’ve got to do it for everybody.”

The mayor has been banging this drum since Nov. 8, when, during a speech he made at an event in Washington hosted by the liberal Center for American Progress and the conservative American Action Forum, he said, “The spending cuts in Simpson-Bowles, plus Clinton-era tax rates, plus closing some tax loopholes and ending wasteful subsidies, would save $8 trillion and effectively bring our budget into balance by 2021.”

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Simpson-Bowles was the informal name of the commission created by the president in 2010 to make recommendations to stabilize and improve the economy. Its recommendations included raising taxes and also cutting entitlement programs.

The mayor’s speech in Washington that day came during the deliberations of the “super committee” on deficit reduction, which was created as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling earlier that year. The committee ended up effectively punting the issue into the 2012 election cycle. In the meantime, Bloomberg has continued to make his case for Simpson-Bowles-like reform, and in so doing, hinting at the role he might occupy once his third term expires in 2013.

Bloomberg, mayor of the nation’s financial capital, a self-made billionaire who was a Democrat before he turned Republican (and then, later, independent), has been carving out a role in the national economic debate that bears some resemblance to that of another hugely successful and publicly interested businessman, Warren Buffet. Like Buffet, Bloomberg purports to be able to speak both the language of business and the language of public policy in a way both worlds can understand.

“As someone who has been on both sides of business and government, I’ve seen how the two sides often talk past each other,” said Bloomberg in November. “Last week at Senator Michael Bennet’s request, I convened a dinner with a bipartisan group of senators and New York business leaders ... Some of the business leaders expressed the concern that they are not being heard in Washington, and I think they’re half right. They are being heard, but they are not being understood. And hopefully this morning I can do a little translating for them. “

Unlike Buffet, who has been happy to see his views (and his employees) put in the service of the president's agenda, Bloomberg has maintained the posture of an anti-partisan, condemning bickering and inaction in "Washington" and decrying a lack of leadership in Congress and the White House. And in advocating the recommendations of the president's commission, Bloomberg is indeed putting himself in a place where neither party particularly wants to go; the president initially recoiled at the committee's recommendations on entitlements (before eventually coming around to something very much like them), and Republicans rejected any plan that included tax hikes.

But substantively, Bloomberg's prescriptions on taxes have placed him on the Democratic side of the equation, and in the case of allowing all the Bush-era rates to expire, he is actually to the left of Obama.

Even then, his position is framed in terms of creating a hospitable, stable environment for businesses.

“They are not going to make major investment decisions until they know how Washington intends to grapple with our huge deficits, and right now they have no idea how or if that’s going to be accomplished,” the mayor said in November.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Bloomberg appeared on "Meet the Press" (from Indianapolis) and made the same case.

“What the president should do is just veto I think any extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for everybody,” said Bloomberg. “We’re all in this together. We should all pony up and help close the deficit, and then adopt the Simpson-Bowles plan, which was done thoughtfully, and it wasn’t horse-trading. It was trying to strike a balance between the things we need and the things we’d like.”