President Obama said on Monday that he wants to raise taxes, to the tune of $1.5 trillion. A tax hike of this magnitude is an unusually bad idea, even from a president who specializes in bad ideas, and Republicans responded as they often do to Obama’s proposals: with a thunderous roar of “not on your life,” or words to that effect.

The president tried to disguise his call for a massive tax hike as a first step toward tax reform but several Republicans, including Sen. Olympia Snowe, called him on it.

Snowe’s statement in response to Obama’s speech touting his so-called “deficit reduction” plan was concise and thoughtful, and went beyond the just plain “no” we’ve come to expect from the president’s opponents.

We yield to the senior senator from Maine:

“I welcome the president’s call for Congress to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of our tax code. I urged the president more than two years ago to begin the debate on tax reform because the current code is too complex and too onerous.

“Unfortunately, the president’s call to raise taxes during this time of economic tumult threatens to chill opportunities for recovery. Raising taxes is both a bad idea for the economy and the wrong way to address our deficits and debt.

THREE REASONS

“First, increasing taxes would slow or strangle what little growth we are seeing in our all-too-weak economy that experienced an anemic 0.4 percent growth rate in the first quarter and 1 percent growth rate in the second quarter of this year.

“Secondly, it would stifle job creation – 50 percent of the income above $250,000 per year is attributable to small businesses, and small businesses create at least 60 percent of all new jobs.

“We already have an unemployment rate persistently above 9 percent and increasing taxes would worsen rather than improve the unacceptable level of joblessness in America.

“Third, we have witnessed not only a large growth in debt over the past decade but a massive acceleration of debt most recently, with $2 trillion in new debt added just in the last two years. Clearly, spending is the problem, so why would more taxes be the solution?

“We cannot ask the American people to pay more than they already do in order to paper over the debt problems that Congress created; it is up to us to fix the spending problem, not retroactively justify it by making people pay increased taxes.”

We quote Sen. Snowe’s statement not only because it’s reasonable – as opposed to the overheated political rhetoric that’s so prevalent nowadays – but because it makes several important and valid points.

Most important among these: Raising taxes is exactly the wrong thing to do in the midst of “economic tumult.”

Obama knows this, which is why he previously backed off a 2008 campaign pledge to raise taxes on top earners.

But he’s in full 2012 campaign mode now, so he’s back to railing against the “Bush tax cuts” and fostering economic divisiveness among various voter groups – or, as Republicans call it, “class warfare.”

MISSED OPPORTUNITY

And that’s unfortunate, because the president could have used the speech to offer realistic proposals to address the nation’s debt and help pay for his $447 billion plan to stimulate the economy and boost employment.

That plan actually features some good ideas and offers a solid framework for potential compromise with Republicans.

The tax plan he offered as a follow-up will go nowhere in Congress and will most likely take his jobs program down with it.

What the president really needs to do is get on board with the concept of meaningful tax reform. Raising taxes on certain income groups, cutting them on others, giving a loophole here, taking away a loophole there – it’s all a smoke-and-mirrors trick that further complicates a too-complicated tax code.

We need a complete overhaul of the nation’s tax policy. We need to lower individual and corporate tax rates, eliminate all the loopholes that allow favored groups to avoid paying their fair share – and we need to stop tinkering with the system.

It’s been said again and again, but we’ll repeat it: The biggest enemy of economic progress is uncertainty. We should make taxes – and, while we’re at it, regulations – as simple and predictable as possible.

It wouldn’t be that difficult, if politicians and bureaucrats in Washington would agree to stop manipulating the tax code to serve their political self-interest instead of the economic interests of the country.

That’s the plan Obama should have proposed on Monday. Instead, he handed Republicans one more excuse to say “not on your life,” or words to that effect.