NBC News personalities were clear on Sunday’s Meet the Press that Barack Obama needs to bring the fiscal "pain" and sacrifice to the voters with higher taxes. In his interview with incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, host David Gregory suggested Obama’s middle-class tax cut promises should be abandoned in the current state of affairs: "Is that the responsible thing to do on top of the debt burden that we talked about, on top of the deficit I just outlined?"
In the roundtable segment, Tom Brokaw agreed it was time for "pain" and time for an end to "ideological food fights" with Obama now that "even Republicans are cheering him on." New White House reporter Chuck Todd added that Obama’s latest speech on a stimulus plan was dry and weak, since "it didn't ask for any sacrifice from the country."
GREGORY: But Democrats were always critical of the Bush tax cuts, for instance, which were the first time that, that taxes were cut during a war. There's a $1.2 trillion deficit forecast for 2009, as you well know. There's a political element to this as well, and that is that the president-elect campaigned on a middle class tax cut. Now, the projections are if this were to become permanent tax cut beyond two years that would be part of the stimulus, that could be a $710 billion tax cut at least, at least.
GREGORY: Is that the responsible thing to do on top of the debt burden that we talked about, on top of the deficit I just outlined?
EMANUEL: Look, first of all, let's be clear that the middle class didn't really participate in the tax cuts that you talked about in the last eight years; that they have worked harder, earned less and are paying more. And the middle class have the fundamental different approach.
EMANUEL: And that's the change we want to bring to Washington as president.
GREGORY: But an additional $700 billion?
EMANUEL: President Obama's been very clear, you cannot have a strong economy that does not have a strong middle class. And the, the approach has been to provide the middle class with a tax cut, and also to start getting the economy moving again by making critical investments. That's why we want to create three and a half million jobs.
Gregory did walk Emanuel through the large size of all the bailout packages strung together, and he pressed Emanuel to respond to complaints about the latest stimulus package from House Minority Leader John Boehner. But the "sacrifice" talk was still all the rage. In the roundtable, Tom Brokaw suggested the time for debate and dissent is over:
Well, I think more than anytime than I can remember in all the years I've been doing this, the country is paying attention. The phrase I've been using, "The nerve endings of the country are exposed." And now, after the election and given the magnitude of the problems that we're facing, even Republicans are cheering him on. They want this to work and they're willing to set aside, you know, a lot of what we've been through for the last eight years and beyond that in terms of the ideological food fights. And they're saying, "Look, we've got to get through this together."
There is going to be some pain. The economic conditions, the objective reality is they're very, very difficult. And you can't even find a model that fits, in our lifetime, for what we're facing now. And what we've learned in the last four months, just when we think we've gotten to higher ground we go off the cliff again. And I think that has meant for the country not just a crisis of confidence, but sheer terror on the lot of a lot of people, and with good reason.
Chuck Todd agreed that the times called for Obama to demand more sacrifice from the taxpayers:
When he did his speech for the stimulus package last week, I thought it was one of his surprisingly weaker performances. It was very dry, it didn't ask for any sacrifice from the, the country, it was all about government. And it was an odd thing, because it was supposed to be a speech that was to the American people, getting them – to buy in on this, and he didn't ask for any buy-in. Now, maybe they were waiting till the inaugural address to do that, but I think that that is the number one thing a lot of Obama's supporters on the intellectual side of this are all wondering; "OK, Bush didn't do this after 9/11. We're counting on you to do this. How are you going to do it and how are you going to make that real?"
None of these stars seemed to imagine that the proposed tax cuts might be proposed for their purported ability to spur economic activity or growth, even if skewed toward people who don't actually pay income taxes. They seemed to simply oppose tax cuts as a moral issue.