MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - President Barack Obama, speaking at the Computer History Museum here on Sept. 26 as a guest of career-oriented social network provider LinkedIn, defended his recently proposed American Jobs Act and its provision to reform the tax code to make it more equitable among all income groups.
The president spoke to LinkedIn employees for an hour onsite and answered their questions-and those from a Webcast audience-in a town hall-type conversation format. Questions were exclusively about jobs, unemployment issues, education and taxes.
Mr. Obama's employment initiative, proposed Sept. 8, is now being debated in both houses of Congress. The president's plan would fund a large number of national infrastructure-type initiatives, including the rebuilding of highways, airports, schools and other public structures. It also would raise $1.5 trillion in new revenue, including about $800 billion over 10 years by repealing the Bush-era tax cuts for couples making more than $250,000.
"[The American Jobs Act] is all paid for," Obama said. "It's paid for in part by building on some very tough cuts in our budget to eliminate waste and things we don't need. We've already made those; a trillion dollars over the next 10 years. We propose an additional half-trillion dollars over the next 10 years in spending cuts and adjustments in programs that we want to keep intact but haven't been reformed for too long.
"But in order to pay for it and bring down the deficit at the same time, we're going to have to reform our tax codes in a way that's fair, to make sure that everybody is doing their fair share," he said.
Closing Tax Loopholes a Key Goal
Obama pointed out that Americans making more than $1 million pay Social Security tax on only 10 percent of their incomes. "Once we start closing loopholes like this and make things more fair for all citizens, then we'll start closing the gaps in the budget," he said.
Obama said his proposals are not aimed at penalizing the wealthy, but rather to return U.S. income tax rates to what they were in the 1990s. "During that period, the rich got richer," he said. "The middle class expanded, and many people rose out of poverty. Right now, we have the lowest tax rates since the 1950s."
Obama said that the initiative also provides tax incentives for employers to hire military veterans if they are qualified for specific jobs.
In addressing a question about the continuing need to upgrade and reinforce the nation's educational infrastructure, the president used the illustration of a new program recently enacted in New York by IBM involving a fresh look at vocational education.
IBM's New Job Training Program
"IBM is engaged in a really interesting experience in New York, where they are essentially setting up schools similar to community colleges," Obama said. "They're saying to kids pretty early on, as early as eighth grade: 'We're going to work with New York public schools to design a program-this is not for the kids who are in the top 1 percent, this is for ordinary public schools kids-and say, 'If you follow this program and you work hard, IBM will hire you at the end of this process.'
"It suddenly gives kids an incentive. They say: 'The reason I'm studying math and science is that there is a practical outcome. I will have a job. There are practical applications for what I'm doing in the classroom. We want to do more to train workers, even if they don't have a four-year degree.'"
The most unusual question asked of Obama was from an audience member, who said: "I don't have a job, but I've been lucky enough to work for a small start-up right down the street that did quite well. So, my question is: Would you please raise my taxes? I would very much like to continue to have Pell Grants, infrastructure and job-training programs that made it possible for me to get to where I am, and it kills me to see Congress not supporting the expiration of the tax cuts."
With a smile, Obama asked him if he would tell him the name of the start-up. "It's a search engine," the man said. "Worked out pretty well, huh?" the president said. "Yeah," the questioner replied.
The president, who made fund-raising event appearances the evening of Sept. 25 at the Woodside home of former Symantec CEO John Thompson and the Atherton home of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, was due in Los Angeles and San Diego later in the day Sept. 26.