Surprise: Times Discovers Rich Can't Pay for Everything Obama Wants

Reporter Jackie Calmes' "Political Memo" on Saturday hurled some straight talk in Obama's direction over his expensive health care proposals: "Obama's Pledge to Tax Only the Rich Can't Pay for Everything, Analysts Say." In other words, the middle class will get bitten as well.

It would have been even nicer if such a campaign-style, fact-check story had appeared during the actual presidential campaign, when Obama-philic reporter Larry Rohter was ardently defending Obama from John McCain's "false" claims that Obama would raise taxes on the middle class.

Calmes is certainly not overly sympathetic to the conservative argument. She cited that old liberal favorite, "the growing income gap between the rich and everyone else," and took a swipe at the GOP's "anti-tax absolutism."

Behind Democrats' struggle to pay the $1 trillion 10-year cost ofPresident Obama's promise to overhaul the health care system is their collision with another of his well-known pledges: that 95 percent of Americans "will not see their taxes increase by a single dime" during his term.

This will not be the last time that the president runs into a conflict between his audacious agenda and his pay-as-you-go guarantee, when only 5 percent of taxpayers are being asked to chip in. Critics from conservative to liberal warn that Mr. Obama has tied his and Congress's hands on a range of issues, including tax reform and the need to reduce deficits topping $1 trillion a year.

"You can only go to the same well so many times," said Bruce Bartlett, aTreasuryofficial in the Reagan administration.

In the budget, Mr. Obama and Congress have already agreed to let the Bush tax cuts for the most affluent expire after 2010, as scheduled, but to extend them for everyone else. The top rates, now 33 percent and 35 percent, will revert to Clinton-era levels of 36 percent and 39.6 percent.

The critics do not have a beef with the government's taking more from the wealthiest Americans, especially given the growing income gap between the rich and everyone else. They object to doing so for health care over other pressing needs.

"I want to tax the rich to reduce the deficit," saidRobert D. Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office who heads the Urban Institute, a center-left research group. Similarly, Mr. Bartlett, a conservative analyst who often chastises Republicans for their antitax absolutism, supports overhauling the tax code to raise revenues.

But Calmes at least noted some hitches to "taxing the rich," including concerns about hitting small business owners,the pervasiveness oftax avoidance schemes, and the potential for tax hikes for "warping business decisions." That's more credit then the Times usually gives to conservative anti-tax arguments.