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Channeling the Bartlet Administration, Obama's Advisor Brian Deese Takes to the White Board

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, April 11 2012

The White House's newest edition of the White House White Board takes direct inspiration from television's fictional West Wing in a quest to explain the administration's Buffett Rule.

In the February 2003 episode from the show's fourth season written by creator Aaron Sorkin, Deputy Communications Director Will Bailey, played by Joshua Malina, is explaining the Jed Bartlet administration's new tax policy to a group of interns as they prepare to help him work on public remarks. To illustrate the plan's impact on different tax brackets, Bailey creates a table on a white board that shows the different earnings and taxes for non-union workers, public school teachers and doctors.

Bailey then explains:

Public school teacher. $41,724 is the national average. He's paying 28% or $11,682. And, finally, a doctor making 150,000 is paying 36% or $54,000 in taxes. 15%, 28%, 36%. It's called a progressive tax, it's been around since Lincoln. Under the plan the Republicans announced on Friday, the box unloader stays the same, the schoolteacher stays the same, the doctor gets $4,500 back. Under our plan, which has sort of been announced already, the box unloader gets $321 back, the schoolteacher gets $1,251, the doctor stays the same and to finance the tax deductability of college tuition for the children of the box unloader and the schoolteacher, we go to a fourth group, the uberwealthy, and ask a CEO making $16,400,000 a year to give us another one percent, taking him up to 41. Bring me whatever you have done in an hour. That's what I'm going to work with.

In the new White House White Board installment, Brian Deese, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, is explaining the White House's Buffett Rule -- using an almost identical table to Bailey and giving credit to the West Wing:

"Now many of you have seen the TV show The West Wing, on it there was a character named Will Bailey, who used a whiteboard himself to illustrate a tax concept, and I don't have any Emmy-award winning writers but I'm going to borrow a page out of his book," he says. Then he turns over his whiteboard to reveal a table with an executive assistant, who is "a 35-year old single mother," "a young married couple, a teacher and a cop," and a doctor.

He continues:

16, 19, 23. It's the basic core of our progressive tax system. As you earn more in income, you pay a somewhat higher share of your income in taxes. As Will Bailey points out, it's been a concept that's been around for more than a century. Now I'm going to add an additional group. I'm going to call them the Uber-Wealthy, the 400 highest earners in 2008 ... On average, they earned $110 million a year. Just to put that number in perspective, that's a thousand times more than our teacher and our cop. That group, on average, paid 18 percent ... So this is why we need the Buffet Rule. With the Buffet Rule … there would be no change for our executive assistant, in the taxes that they pay, the teacher and the cop, they stay the same, the doctor -- same thing. But for families making over a million dollars each year, the Buffet Rule would enshrine a basic principle of fairness in our tax code -- it would say that those families should pay 30 percent of their income in taxes.

While The West Wing has been out on DVD for years, it also probably doesn't hurt that Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council, was a consultant to the West Wing writing staff from 2001 to 2004.

The show had previously addressed the subject matter of taxing the rich in a May 2001 episode, in which Americans for Tax Justice and the Progressive Caucus are suggesting that the Bartlet Administration add a line into a speech, stating that "We want a real tax cut for working families to help them pay for higher education and housing, while our opponents want to help the rich pay for bigger swimming pools and faster private jets."

Bailey's predecessor, Sam Seaborn, played by Rob Lowe, rejects the suggestion, saying "the top one percent of wage earners in this country pay for 22 percent of this country. Let’s not call them names while they’re doing it, is all I’m saying." That episode was written by Aaron Sorkin with the story by Patrick Caddell, now a Democratic analyst for Fox News who had previously worked for George McGovern and Jimmy Carter.