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Obama Proposes New Taxes On The Wealthy

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And one speech that will be getting a good bit of attention this week is President Obama's State of the Union address tomorrow night. This comes as the president begins his seventh year in office. He's battling lame-duck status, and we'll hear about that in a moment, but let's preview the speech first.

The White House has already begun revealing some of the proposals in it. The president wants to provide free community college tuitions, paid family care time for workers, a tripling of the child tax credit among other things. And over the weekend, we learned how he plans to pay for all this; it's a tax proposal. Cokie Roberts is with us as she is most Mondays. Hey, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So tell us about this tax plan.

ROBERTS: Well, it does have, as you said, a credit for child care but it's got a lot of other credits in it for middle-class families. It's got something for two-earner families; it's got something for parents; it's got something for college students; it's got something for retirees. And it's got something for low-income people. So paying for all of that, which is going to cost apparently $175 billion over 10 years, the president plans to do that with a big increase in the capital gains tax and extending that capital gains tax to inheritance taxes, closing what the administration calls the trust fund loophole. They claim that will raise $210 billion over 10 years - and impose fees on banks to discourage them from risky borrowing. And they say that that will also raise another $110 billion over 10 years - so great, big taxes on banks and on people who have capital gains.

GREENE: Essentially making the argument that we have heard before that banks and wealthy Americans should carry some of the burden to be able to ease the burden on middle-class Americans. I mean, Cokie, these are types of proposals that Republicans have fought very hard before, suggesting that they are not good for the economy. The Republicans now control both chambers of Congress. I mean, any realistic chance that the president could actually get this passed?

ROBERTS: Probably not. Now, the White House says that some Republicans have been behind many of these proposals, but, look, this is designed to embarrass Republicans into looking like they're protecting the rich, which is what the president's after. It's not an economic speech; it's a political speech. And it's hitting all the themes that many Democrats think should've been hit in the last campaign but weren't because Democratic candidates chose to focus on things like culture wars. And it's a way for the president to reset the Democratic agenda to what many have thought that it should've been anyway, and it comes at a good time for the president. His approval ratings are up because people are feeling much better about the economy.

GREENE: Not to get too philosophical, but, I mean, when people talk about, you know, term limits, they argue that a person who can't run again is not thinking about politics. I mean, they're thinking about legacy and policy. If that were true, I mean, President Obama - wouldn't he be focusing on actually things that could get done rather than kind of laying down political markers for the next election?

ROBERTS: Well, he has another legacy which he needs to erase, and that's in his own party. Almost 70 Democrats in the Congress have lost since Obama was elected and countless numbers in the states. He wants to turn around that image that he's bad for the party. And he also wants to make it easier for a successor in the White House to be a Democrat, which flies in the face of history to have a third term. So now the fact that he's a lame duck with a Republican Congress that has to show it can govern, in some ways, freeze the president to propose all of these things that everybody knows will never pass in order to say on the campaign trail, look, Democrats tried to do this, but the bad, old Republicans stopped them.

Now there's the question of what it means for the country, and the White House I think would say, look, these Republicans have made it clear you can't work with them, so why not just go for it and make proposals that the people want and leave it up to the Republicans to figure it out?

GREENE: All right. Cokie Roberts joins us most Mondays on the program. Cokie, always good to talk to you.

ROBERTS: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.