How does President Obama please his corporate backers while simultaneously lighting a populist fire? By advocating "a new economic patriotism," where empty protectionist rhetoric is paired with meaty corporate-welfare policies.
"It's time for a new economic patriotism," Obama says in his latest campaign ad. This is his play for Ohio, where both campaigns believe the swing blue-collar vote craves protectionism. While much of Obama's "patriotism" is fluff for the masses, his policies do pack some real economic nationalism in them -- the red meat he gives to corporate America.
Let's start with the fluff. "I want to stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs and factories overseas," Obama regularly says from the stump. He hit on that item in his "economic patriotism" ad. Sounds fine, but what is he actually talking about?
Not much, it turns out. Corporations pay income taxes on their profits. Profits, roughly, are revenues minus expenses. One expense businesses incur is moving labor or equipment to new locations. Obama is proposing that the cost of moving facilities out of the United States shouldn't be deductible. Those costs should count as part of the company's profits.
This targeted tax penalty would raise $14 million per year, or 0.0005 percent of the federal budget, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Corporate income tax payments were about $237 billion last year. So the $14 million in disallowed deductions adds up to less than one penny out of every $100 of income tax U.S. corporations pay.
Harping on how Romney wants to keep "tax breaks for companies that export jobs" is typical Obama spin. First, Obama makes it sound like Romney is proposing some sort of special tax break for outsourcers. He's not -- Romney is merely not supporting Obama's special tax hike. Second, Obama implies that his tax proposal meaningfully affects federal revenue or corporate behavior.
It's easy populism: You rile up the base by talking tough to corporations, but you don't upset your big-business donors, because they know your policy wouldn't make a bit of difference.
Meanwhile, the serious part of Obama's "economic patriotism" does affect big business -- the bailouts and corporate welfare that constitute Obama's industrial policy.
Obama's "economic patriotism" ad repeats his promise to double U.S. exports. His main tool for this initiative has been the Export-Import Bank, a federal agency that subsidizes U.S. exports. The agency issued $24.6 billion in loan guarantees in fiscal years 2009, 2010 and 2011, and $19.9 billion of that has subsidized Boeing exports -- that's 80 percent.
Obama is the top recipient of Boeing contributions this cycle, having brought in more than twice as much as Romney from the company's employees and executives, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2008, Obama raised five dollars from Boeing for every one dollar John McCain raised. Obama's export czar is Boeing CEO Jerry McNerney.
General Electric has been the primary supplier on $1.4 billion of Ex-Im loan guarantees -- or 30 percent of the non-Boeing dollars. GE, which spends more on lobbying than any other corporation, is famously cozy with the Obama administration, having supported (and standing to profit from) Obamacare, the stimulus, climate change legislation, stem cell subsidies, rail subsidies and other Obama priorities. GE chief Jeff Immelt is Obama's job czar.
(Immelt's subordinates, meanwhile, may have fallen out of love with Obama: After favoring him over McCain 5-to-1 in 2008 campaign contributions, GE employees and executives have given more to Romney than to Obama so far this election.)
Obama's call for "economic patriotism" seems to come straight from Immelt's script. "I want you to root for me," Immelt said on "60 Minutes" last fall. "Everybody in Germany roots for Siemens. Everybody in Japan roots for Toshiba. Everybody in China roots for China South Rail. I want you to say: 'Win, GE.' "
In throwing empty rhetoric to the middle class and profitable subsidies to industry, Obama's "economic patriotism" fits perfectly with other aspects of Obamanomics. His push to pass Obamacare consisted of constant barbs at the "special interests" while he worked hand in hand with the single greatest special interest -- the drug lobby, which spends more than any other industry on influencing Washington.
This past weekend, after barnstorming through Ohio, Obama returned to his forte, entertaining Beltway millionaires at $30,000-a-plate fundraisers. It's a good gig Obama has going: making promises to the proletariat during the day, trading favors with the fat cats at night.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.