Until last Wednesday, I had planned to use this column to appeal to the villains who had kidnapped President Barack Obama — space aliens, Republicans, Sarah Palin? — to release him so he could be the leader voters expected when he was elected.

I’m delighted that I don’t have to do that.

Obama — not the look-alike who has been compromising and backpeddling — showed up at a presidential press conference at the White House on Wednesday sounding and acting like the man I thought we had elected.

It’s about time.

I’m not sure Obama has been a captive, but it sure seemed that way.

The Obama I thought had been elected would not have let the Republicans set the tone of the debate over the debt ceiling with worn-out rhetoric that labels Democrats as spenders and Republicans as fiscally wise and responsible.

That’s garbage.

When Democratic President Bill Clinton left office, the nation had a budget surplus, not a deficit, and the economy was booming. The fiscal progress in Clinton’s years was largely because of tax increases that fell almost entirely on high-income taxpayers.

Clinton’s successor, Republican George W. Bush, turned that surplus into a massive deficit by reducing taxes on the wealthy while spending billions on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama inherited massive deficits and an economy in shambles. It is no surprise that he has been unable to quickly fix the mess.

Now, facing an urgent need to deal with a growing national debt, Republicans argue against restoring the taxes on wealthy Americans while demanding cuts in spending programs that help children, poor people, the jobless, the elderly and the sick.

The Republican approach favors international corporations, top-level Wall Street executives, billionaires and campaign donors who fly around in corporate jets while millions lose their jobs, their homes and their hope.

Obama made those points at the press conference on Wednesday. Now he needs to repeat them often and sharply as Republicans continue to argue against any kind of tax increase on people who have been raking in millions while others try to survive on pennies.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky blasts Democratic spending but he wrote part of a farm bill that gave a tax break of $126 million per year for the horse racing industry. McConnell would rather line the pockets of wealthy horseracing stables than find money to feed the hungry or care for the sick or elderly.

Chief executives and hedge fund managers are paying the lowest tax rates since the 1950s — before the president was born — Obama said Wednesday. That’s outrageous.

He noted that one Democratic proposal — fought by congressional Republicans — would require the owners of corporate jets to write off the cost of the planes in fewer years. That would generate about $3 billion for the federal treasury in 10 years.

“You’ll still be able to ride on your corporate jet,” the president said. “You’ll just have to pay a little bit more.”

The New York Times reported on Friday that some conservatives said Obama was approaching class warfare.

Nonsense. Class warfare is continuing tax policies to further enrich the very few who already were wealthy while the rest of the people suffer.

Phasing out special tax breaks for oil companies — already making record profits — could bring in nearly $40 billion a year. That is better tax policy than cutting funds for Social Security or Medicare.

These arguments are not about middle-class tax cuts or tax increases. Middle-class people don’t fly in corporate jets, own race horses or run hedge funds.

Certainly the government needs to reduce spending, but that should not eliminate programs that could stimulate the economy, put people to work, reduce home foreclosures, or care for the sick and elderly. A bipartisan group led by Vice President Joe Biden reportedly has found more than $1 trillion worth of possible spending cuts. Undoubtedly some will be painful.

But Republican stubbornness on any tax increases or closing any loopholes is not just bad fiscal policy. It’s immoral.

Both parties — but mostly House Republicans and their tea party faction — need to recognize that it would be intolerable to risk economic disaster by failing to raise the national debt ceiling by the Aug. 2 deadline and that doing so requires a responsible decision on spending cuts and tax increases. House tea party Republicans may not like it, but their faction should not set the terms of the debate or set national policy.

Obama, now out of captivity, made that clear on Wednesday

David B. Offer is the retired executive editor of the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel. Email [email protected]

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