When President Obama last week lumped together business jet owners and hedge fund managers — what average citizen doesn't think of Bernie Madoff when he hears that phrase? — as examples of rich people getting unfair tax breaks, it was clear that the gloves had come off. The President was once again picking what he perceived as an easy target and again it is business aviation. The President singled out accelerated depreciation as a special tax break that the very wealthy enjoy and that the country can't afford.
The problem is that the President himself made accelerated depreciation — which is, at heart, a tax break on business aircraft — part of his own stimulus package. So when he attacked the break, he was attacking his own program. The White House has officially declined credit for the creation of the program, though it has not denied its endorsement of it.
The problem is, the President wants his cake — getting credit for helping to revitalize American industry — and eat it too — by attacking those fat cat bizjet owners as leverage to get tax increases in his budget fight with Congressional Republicans.
My mom used to tell me when you want to get to the heart of the matter, look not at what someone says but at what they do. The President is one of the world's foremost users of business aviation — as has been every chief executive for 50 years before him — and when campaign season is in full swing (as it seems to be half the time these days), his bizjet use is supercharged. He knows that important people doing important business and living their lives use bizjets to get things done. That's because he's one of those people. The bottom line is, President Obama understands perfectly how useful bizjets are. So it is politically cynical of him to vilify bizjet "owners" for political gain while he benefits from the very model he demonizes.
The other big problem for President Obama is that the bizjet model he is now attacking is responsible for billions of dollars of economic activity and hundreds of thousands of jobs in the United States. If it takes some tax incentives to help create an environment in which people continued to buy the airplanes that support that kind of activity, the President should do the right thing, pass up the opportunity to make political hay at the industry's — and the American people's — expense and get down to the hard job of making tough choices.
Because when it comes down to it, the President is really just lobbying for tax increases, but regardless of which side of that issue you fall on, it serves no one's best interests to attack such an important part of our national economy. There's simply too much at stake.