Obama says he can ‘afford’ to pay more taxes to fund Biden’s $3.5T bill

Former President Barack Obama said he should be the among the Americans whose taxes go up to pay for President Joe Biden‘s $3.5 trillion budget bill that is being debated on Capitol Hill. 

‘They can afford it, we can afford it – I put myself in this category now,’ Obama said Tuesday on Good Morning America. ‘And I think anybody who pretends that it’s a hardship for billionaires to pay a little bit more in taxes so that a single mom gets childcare support or so that we’re doing something about climate change for the next generation, that’s an argument that’s unsustainable.’ 

Obama spoke to GMA in advance of the groundbreaking of his Obama Presidential Center in the Jackson Park neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side. 

ABC News’ Robin Roberts talked to him about a number of political issues, including the visuals of Haitian migrants being rounded up by American border patrol. 

‘Unfortunately, comprehensive immigration reform has consistently gotten stuck, partly because we can’t get enough Republicans to support it,’ Obama said, addressing the policy angle first. ‘What happens at the Texas border is a painful reminder that we don’t have this right yet,’ he said, before referring to the images as ‘heartbreaking.’ 

Former President Barack Obama said in an interview with Good Morning America that he should be the among the Americans whose taxes go up to pay for President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget bill that is being debated on Capitol Hill

‘And it is, I think, one of those situation in which if you have a system that overall has been dysfuncational, you are going to get episodes in which what’s happening right in front of you is something that nobody wants,’ Obama continued. 

While Obama was less optimistic about an immigration bill getting through Congress, he did believe Biden would be successful getting the $3.5 trillion budget bill passed. 

‘I believe that it will get done,’ Obama said. ‘It will be messy – it’s always messy to get big, serious legislation done.’

Obama argued that the legislation is something ‘America desperately needs.’

‘When you look at the overall package, it’s got a headline pricetag of $3.5 trillion. But that’s not a single year, this is spread out over a number of years,’ he said. ‘And most importantly, it’s paid for by asking the wealthiest of Americans to pay a few percentage points more in taxes in order to make sure we have an economy that’s fair for everybody.’ 

He then pointed out he was among the rich.  

He added, ‘As far as Democrats are concerned, I think that President Biden is handling it exactly right.’ 

Biden could get the $3.5 trillion bill through with Democratic votes alone, but moderates have balked at the pricetag, and progressives are holding up another key Biden bill – bipartisan infrastructure legislation – in order to get the larger bill passed. 

All the while, a government shutdown is looming if Congress doesn’t pass a stop gap funding bill by the end of the month.          

In a pre-released clip from the interview Monday, Obama dismissed criticism the planned presidential center would destroy a historic park and displace black residents from Chicago’s south side due to gentrification.  

The nation’s first black president told ABC News that he is ‘absolutely confident’ the Obama Presidential Center in the old Jackson Park section of the city’s South Side will benefit the community. 

‘The truth is, any time you do a big project, unless you’re in the middle of a field somewhere, you know, and it’s on private property, there’s always going to be some people who say, “Well, but we don’t want change. We’re worried about it. We don’t know how it’s going to turn out,”‘ Obama said.

‘Which is why we’ve gone through such an exhaustive process to encourage and elicit comments and concerns and criticism and suggestions from the community.’ 

Some critics, however, have dismissed the Obama Presidential Center as an out-of-touch ego trip.   

Obama’s visit to Chicago this week comes less than two months after the ex-president generated controversy by hosting a 60th birthday party at his massive home on Martha’s Vineyard at the height of the COVID-19 Delta surge.

Obama’s presidential center will move another step closer to its brick-and-mortar future Tuesday when ground is broken after years of reviews, other delays and continued local opposition. 

Obama and his wife, Michelle, will join Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in Chicago on Tuesday for a groundbreaking ceremony for the Obama Presidential Center.

‘Michelle and I could not be more excited to break ground on the Obama Presidential Center in the community that we love,’ the former president said, seated beside his wife, in a video announcement shared first with The Associated Press.

The former president in 2016 chose a site in Jackson Park, a historic lakefront landmark, to build his presidential library, near where he began his political career, met and married his wife and lived with their family.

‘Just about everything that’s important to me in my life started here,’ he told Good Morning America. 

The former first lady grew up on Chicago’s South Side.

But the planning process hit numerous snags due to a legal battle with park preservationists and protests from neighborhood activists who feared the planned $500million center would displace black residents.

Obama told Good Morning America: ‘The overwhelming majority of the community has been not just OK with it, but are hugely enthusiastic about it.’

The new center will include a library, museum, gardens and a playground.

Obama and supporters of the center say it will attract investment and jobs to the community, but opponents fear that it will lead to increased gentrification that will eventually displace low-income residents of color.

Chicago’s City Council has since approved neighborhood protections, and a four-year federal review process that was needed because of its location in Jackson Park – which is on the National Register of Historic Places – was recently completed.

It determined that the presidential center posed ‘no significant impact to the human environment.’ 

But Protect Our Parks, a nonprofit park preservationist organization, filed a lawsuit in April challenging the legality of the federal review.

The group argued that the planned center ‘will tear up this Frederick Law Olmsted masterpiece.’ It claimed that the plans call for removing trees, tearing down the Women’s Garden, and a closure of roadways.

The new center, whose construction will be estimated at $500million, will include a library, museum, gardens, and a children's playground. The above image is an artist rendering of the Obama Presidential Center. It was released in May 2017

The new center, whose construction will be estimated at $500million, will include a library, museum, gardens, and a children’s playground. The above image is an artist rendering of the Obama Presidential Center. It was released in May 2017

Last month, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal filed by the group seeking to stop construction.

Protect Our Parks released a statement on Monday saying that ‘the homecoming of the former President and the First Lady should be a moment of pride for Chicagoans.

‘On this visit, though, we hope they will mourn the devastation of the initial clear-cutting of the mature trees and the destruction of the Women’s Garden in Jackson Park, in addition to the long-term environmental and public health dangers that will ensue.’

‘Unfortunately, hosting a series of virtual groundbreakings will not change the facts of the case or the long-term adverse effects on the community,’ the statement said. 

‘On the contrary, it would take one decision by Mr. and Mrs. Obama to relocate the OPC site to the adjacent area close to Washington Park.’ 

Officials announced in February that construction would begin this year, starting with the relocation of utility lines followed by actual construction.

‘This project has reminded us why the South Side and the people who live here are so special,’ the former first lady said in the video, adding that the effort has reaffirmed for her and her husband that the future on the South Side of Chicago ‘is as bright as it is anywhere.’

Environmental and community activists have been vocal in their criticism of plans to build Obama's presidential center in Jackson Park (above), a historic landmark

Environmental and community activists have been vocal in their criticism of plans to build Obama’s presidential center in Jackson Park (above), a historic landmark

Obama has described the center as a hub for youth programming and public gatherings that will jumpstart the economy on the city’s South Side, parts of which are impoverished, by bringing attention, jobs and visitors. 

Foundation officials estimate the center will help create about 5,000 jobs, both during and after construction.

Obama was blasted for setting a bad example and being out of touch last month over his lavish 60th birthday bash.

Hundreds of guests, including Hollywood stars, attended the party on August 7, flying in from around the country and congregating under tents where partiers danced, ate and drank the night away on his estate in Edgartown. 

The lavish event was held at a time when Martha’s Vineyard was already experiencing a new surge in cases.

Initially, Obama prepared to welcome 500 guests to his mansion. But he then announced his party would be ‘scaled back’ amid criticism as the Delta coronavirus variant spread across the country.

But despite the ex-president’s insistence that he had disinvited everyone but his family and close friends, 300 to 400 people showed up to his party, everyone from Jay Z and Beyoncé to Chrissy Teigen and John Legend.

Many of the guests flew in by private jet and stayed in Edgartown, the center of the island’s COVID resurgence.

During the festivities, many guests were seen without masks or other face coverings.

A ‘coronavirus coordinator’ was hired to make sure the party was compliant with the most recent CDC guidance.

Attendees were required to take tests and submit their results to gain entry to the compound. 

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