(CNN) — President Joe Biden’s steadfast belief in taxing corporations and the wealthy has become a central pillar on his legislative agenda, even as he warned of political danger and Republican red lines.
Republican senators, some of whom Biden will host in the Oval Office Thursday as he seeks a bipartisan infrastructure deal, have roundly rejected them. Some Democrats, aware of the political backlash that past raises have elicited, have quietly noted their discomfort.
Already, major business lobbyists are laying the groundwork to attack the proposals and considering the kind of wealthy opposition that simply did not materialize in Biden’s successful $ 1.9 trillion covid aid package.
But viewing those increases through a purely political or even technical lens is missing out on what animates Biden’s attachment to them, close advisers say.
Biden’s calculated decision to spend the past two weeks highlighting those increases in almost every public appearance, in some of the most passionate and personal terms, reveals his deep belief that they are more than just a way to pay for his $ US legislative agenda. 4 trillion. According to top advisers, the president’s tax proposal is a question of fairness and Biden is not ashamed to explain why it is a necessity right now, even if the current political landscape would lead many politicians to reconsider such a plan.
“The conviction really drives him,” one of his closest advisers, Mike Donilon, told CNN in an interview. “It is a fundamental conviction that is reflected in political decisions.”
That conviction will be put to the test when the president dives back into bipartisan talks about an infrastructure package he has proposed to fund through corporate tax increases. The six Senate Republicans scheduled to visit the Oval Office Thursday made it clear that the tax increases are not a start.
“Clearly, Senate Republicans are not interested in reviewing the 2017 tax bill,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said after a nearly two-hour meeting in the Oval Office with Biden. which included his House counterpart, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. “We both made that clear to the president. That is our red line.
‘Not even a little bit’
Biden has made it clear that he wants to see if there is room for a deal. He has even told advisers that he sees benefits for the country from a bipartisan physical infrastructure deal, even one much smaller than the $ 2.3 trillion he has proposed.
White House officials and key Democrats in Congress have been exploring different vehicles and avenues to pursue a bipartisan measure, officials say. Some Democrats have urged the White House to view infrastructure as a long-term investment, one that does not need to be funded in the first place.
It’s something White House officials say they haven’t taken off the table, although a senior administration official said it’s not something Biden is personally enthusiastic about at this point.
For now, only two red lines have been established.
“The president’s red lines are inaction and they are anything that raises taxes on people who earn less than $ 400,000 a year,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week.
But if the last few weeks are any indication, the idea of Biden backing down on his proposed method of funding that proposal is extremely unlikely.
Biden has delved into what he sees as the general history of his tax proposals in almost every public appearance since his prime-time address in a joint session of Congress in increasingly personal and spontaneous terms. He has resorted to improvisation in his remarks prepared to emphasize that he does not intend to punish the rich, but sees it as necessary to rebalance the current US economic system.
“We are not going to deprive these executives of their second or third home, traveling by private plane,” Biden told reporters last week. ‘It will not affect your standard of living at all. Not a bit. But I can affect the standard of living of the people I grew up with.
He’s willing to compromise and cut raises for Democrats who are wary of his scale and Republicans are totally against him. But he has dedicated himself to turning questions about those potential political compromises not as a way to draw red lines for a negotiation, but as another opportunity to delve into the story of why he considers them so essential. That is not by accident.
“He strongly believes that you need to give people a window on why you are doing it, a story that you can follow to explain why you are going down this path and repetition,” Donilon said.
A moment of opportunity
In other words, Biden really wants to talk about raising taxes.
Not just because it conducts good polls, although White House officials will gladly provide a wealth of data to show that it does just that.
Not just because it’s a way to raise hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for his broad proposals, though White House officials make it clear that’s exactly what he does, without raising taxes on anyone who earns less than US $. $ 400,000.
But because, his advisers say, he truly believes this is a time to fundamentally change the direction of the American economy.
“The trickle-down economy has never worked and it’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and from the middle,” Biden said in his primetime address.
Biden and his top advisers spent much of the day leading up to the speech focusing on refining the 15 paragraphs that lay out their tax proposals, according to two senior administration officials. It was a long passage in a high-stakes speech, one that Biden made clear to advisers that he needed to get it right, one that needed to tell the story in a way that the American public understood.
Biden knows the ins and outs of politics “inside and out,” according to one adviser, but has more often begun to speak broadly about the country’s economic paradigm shift. One adviser joked that based on how animated the president gets when he speaks privately about the need for justice that drives his proposal, he may not even realize that polls are leaning in his direction on the issue.
A separate adviser said that Biden is aware of the poll, but that it is simply not the subject he gravitates to when he talks about why he is so deeply committed to his proposal.
He speaks regularly in private meetings that this is a moment that could be remembered 50 years from now, when the United States changed the direction of a country beset by a short-term public health crisis and a long-term factor-driven crisis. economical. inequality, say advisers. He talks about how he is watching the world, a rising China in particular.
“He thinks this is an incredible moment of opportunity,” was how a senior official framed Biden’s perspective.
A moment full of risks
But it is also a subject fraught with political risks.
A handful of moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill, while widely supporting the $ 4 trillion in infrastructure and economic proposals that the president has put on the table, have pointed out to the leadership – and, in some cases, the White House directly – that they are uncomfortable with the scale of the increases, according to several people familiar with the conversations.
Each day that passes is closer to a midterm election that Democrats enter with the smallest of majorities in Congress. Next year’s election could test whether the political backlash over the tax increases, and the powerful campaign problem that they have been for Republicans, still carries weight, even as public polls underscore significant support for raising taxes on corporations and the rich.
Republicans have attacked the proposals as designed to stifle economic growth, all in the name of significantly expanding the reach of the social safety net. They consider any effort to revise the 2017 tax law – something many Republicans cite as a pivotal legislative achievement – dead in the water.
A week of poor economic data, especially an employment report that significantly beat economists’ expectations, only served to stiffen that opposition.
In interviews with nearly a dozen members of the Republican Party, most argued that they would not be willing to increase the corporate tax rate even by one point to cover the cost of infrastructure.
Biden has proposed a seven-point increase, although it has opened the door for a smaller iteration.
“The problem I have with that is that we think it’s incremental revenue of one percent, but I think we’ll see a contraction in economic activity that will consume most of that,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina. “I just don’t see it as a real payment.”
Biden has repeatedly said that he does not want to increase the deficit. But the biggest highlight, the advisers say, is how he sees the money raised from the proposed tax increases can be used, not just for long-overdue investments in physical infrastructure, but also in his broad proposals on caring for children. children, education and paid family leave. It’s the story that Biden and his advisers believe resonates, and one adviser pointed to Biden’s “rousing antenna” to identify and focus on the issues that matter to Americans.
But when it comes to taxes, it’s also a candid moment in front of reporters that Biden acknowledged isn’t an easy sell.
“I’m going to have to be able to explain this and keep pushing,” Biden said.
But it is a story in which the president makes clear that he does not view the tax increases in isolation, as a pure policy game. For Biden, they represent an integral part of a broader and more global goal.
“He has a strong fundamental belief of what is at stake, and that these decisions that we are going to make, are going to change the lives of many people in the long term, or at least have the potential to,” said Donilon. “He thinks it’s worth the effort.”
CNN’s Lauren Fox contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism