By Scott Wilson
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 6:24 PM
President Obama, sensing a moment of disarray in the Republican Party, pushed forcefully Wednesday for the Senate to act quickly on measures to benefit small businesses and middle-class wage earners, saying, "We don't have time for any more games."
Flanked by members of his Cabinet in the Rose Garden, Obama struck a partisan and sometimes populist note in calling on Republicans to stop "holding hostage" tax cuts on annual income up to $250,000 in order to secure breaks on earnings above that amount.
The president has used that language before, as have a chorus of his advisers. But in doing so a day after a final set of Republican primaries revealed deep splits within the party less than two months before Election Day, Obama appeared to be pressing the point at a politically sensitive time for the opposition.
"Extending these tax cuts is right, it is just and it will help our economy," Obama said, adding that middle-class earners are the most likely to spend money saved through tax cuts. "These are the same families who will suffer most if their taxes go up next year, and if we can't get an agreement with the Republicans, that's what will happen."
As the November election nears, Obama has increased criticism of what he views as Republican obstruction of measures that could help bring a degree of stability to an economy still producing far fewer jobs than necessary to push down unemployment.
But White House officials, starting with the president, appeared particularly emboldened by primary results Tuesday that produced "tea party" victories and new complications for Republicans in their effort to take control of Congress and some statehouses.
In his daily briefing with reporters, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called the primaries a "very pointed intra-party squabble" that, in his reading, Obama had nothing to do with.
"It's playing out, it is narrowing their map," he said.
Gibbs emphasized the apparent disarray among the Republican leadership over how to manage the tax-cut debate, which has defined the economic conversation in Washington over the past few weeks.
House Republican Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) said over the weekend that he would vote to preserve the Bush-era tax cuts on household income up to $250,000, even if the cuts were not preserved on income above that level - an apparent break from the party's all-or-nothing position.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as well as other congressional Republicans, quickly made clear they did not favor such a compromise. On Wednesday, Boehner, too, appeared to walk back his remarks, saying, "I want to extend all of the current tax cuts."
"What John Boehner said on Saturday and broadcast on Sunday appeared to be an agreement to move forward on the middle-class tax cuts," Gibbs said. "That was the position the president talked about extensively the week before. Now, I understand that those comments seemed to get the leader in a bit of hot water and he moved back to what appeared to be his original position, and that was the ransom for the middle class was $700 billion for tax cuts for the wealthy."
Hours later, in the Rose Garden, Obama expressed satisfaction that the Senate is close to passing a measure that will provide small-business tax breaks and credit, although he added, "It should not have taken this long."
He called on Congress to act more quickly to preserve the tax cuts, asking, "Doesn't it make sense" to pass the elements the two parties agree on.
"We don't have time for any more games," Obama said. "I understand there's an election coming up, but the American people didn't send us here to just think about our jobs. They sent us here to think about theirs."
Afterward, McConnell said in a statement, "Democrats in Washington not only misread their mandate but doubled-down on costly, government-driven domestic policy proposals even as it became clear that the vast majority of Americans vehemently opposed them."
"Tax hikes aren't going to grow the economy, just as no amount of spin can change the fact that the Washington spending spree hasn't led to a hiring spree," he added. "The good news is that a growing chorus of Democrats, here in the Senate and out on the campaign trail, are opposing the tax hikes the administration is proposing."