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This morning, I received an email response from the White House to a message I apparently sent. When I saw the subject line---a highly specific "Response to Your Message"--I was curious to learn which topic's talking points I would soon be reading.  The email turned out to be about the "the fiscal cliff negotiations and recent tax agreement."  Either (a) the White House is responding to a petition or email I sent four months ago, (b) the WH staffer completely missed the point of a recent petition, or (c) they've descended into sending out the same set of talking points for a range of loosely connected issues. At the very least, I would hope this isn't the response I get to a petition against war in Iran or for climate change action.  One can hope, right?

Here's the text of the email interspersed with my commentary.

Thank you for writing.  President Obama has heard from many Americans concerned about the fiscal cliff negotiations and recent tax agreement, and he appreciates your perspective.

The "fiscal cliff" deal was signed by the president on January 2. I don't expect an email in late April to a petition I likely sent in December.  Now, this could be a response to a "take chained CPI off the negotiating table" email.  If so, the person or computer in charge of sending these form emails missed the point.
 
At this make-or-break moment for the middle class, the President achieved a bipartisan solution that keeps income taxes low for the middle class and grows the economy.  Under this law—the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012—more than 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses will not see their income taxes go up.  Millions of families will continue to receive tax credits to help raise their kids and send them to college.  Companies will continue to receive tax credits for the research they do, the investments they make, and the clean energy jobs they create.  And two million Americans who are out of work are going to continue to receive unemployment benefits as long as they are actively looking for a job.
Who knew that Amgen, the world's largest biotechnology firm, was a small business?

The deal excelled at helping the ever-so-needy like Disney, NASCAR, and Goldman Sachs.  We need to give tax breaks to Goldman Sachs because they're doing God's work.  

Extending unemployment benefits is certainly needed.  However, the unemployed would benefit more if the government spent less time talking about deficits and more time talking about how to achieve full employment.  The poorly attended Joint Economic Committee meeting on long-term unemployment shows that that pivot is likely not coming soon.
 

For the first time in 20 years, Congress acted on a bipartisan basis to vote for significant new revenue.  This means millionaires and billionaires will pay their fair share to reduce the deficit through a combination of permanent tax rate increases and reduced tax benefits.  By raising income tax rates on the wealthy and keeping taxes low for the middle class, we now have the most progressive tax code in decades.  This agreement ensures that we can continue to make investments in education, clean energy, and manufacturing that create jobs and strengthen the middle class.
The label "most progressive tax code in decades" isn't saying much when the tax code has been quite regressive as of late. A Brookings study of the pre-"fiscal cliff" tax code found it to be significantly less progressive than the tax codes of other industrialized countries and less progressive than the tax code from several decades ago.  The small increase in the marginal tax rate for the top brackets is a step, not a leap, in progressiveness.

Education, clean energy, and manufacturing?  Well, sequestration--the other part of the austerity bomb--slashed the funds we allocate to all three. Sequestration cut the budgets of Head Start, the school lunch program, special education, among other vital education initiatives.  Don't cry, children:  millionaires are paying more in taxes!  

Clean Energy?  Sequestration cut renewable energy grants by 8.7 percent.

Manufacturing?  That slowed down because of the spending cuts.  
 

In 2011, the President cut spending.  In 2012, he kept his promise of asking the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans to pay more.  As we move forward to address our ongoing fiscal challenges, both spending cuts and continuing to ask the wealthy to do a little more will be part of a balanced approach.  It is critical for our economy and future generations that we reduce the deficit—we cannot keep racking up debt on our children and grandchildren.
If you want to reduce the economic burden on our children and grandchildren, listen to Bernie Sanders and start pushing for meaningful legislation on climate change and allow the EPA to be more aggressive on that front.

He could also listen to Paul Krugman about how our economy will not benefit by further deficit reduction, especially considering that the deficit has been shrinking at the fastest rate since WWII.  He could also listen to the public.  They think the same thing.

The President looks forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to reduce the deficit in a balanced and bipartisan way.  To learn more about the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, please read the President’s statement on the tax agreement or learn the details from our fact sheet.

Thank you, again, for writing.

Sincerely,

The White House

I've written before about the hollowness of the word "balance" in political discourse.  Needless to say, nothing the president has proposed recently has been remotely "balanced."  The ratio of spending cuts to tax increases across the rounds of deficit reduction is not the 1:1 that the word "balance" implies.  And taking pennies from the rich and dollars from the poor hardly counts for balance either.

The dream of the Grand Bargain lives on!  Unfortunately, for the vast majority of the public, it'll be less a dream than a nightmare.

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