Liberals plan to push Obama not to compromise with GOP

He's also in search of something he has lost: the adoration of the American people.
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 11, 2010; 10:34 PM

On the heels of the Democratic Party's huge losses in last week's midterm elections, liberal activists have begun planning to push President Obama on a series of issues, demanding that he not cede any ground to Republicans.

Liberal groups have blasted Obama at times over the past two years as not being sufficiently dedicated to their positions - history that factored into their criticism of the White House on Thursday for signaling that it will compromise with the GOP on the issue of extending tax cuts that are scheduled to expire this year.

Others said they would attack Obama if he embraced any proposal to reduce Social Security benefits, as the leaders of a bipartisan panel proposed this week to cut the federal deficit.

And when Obama and Congress return to Washington next week, gay rights activists will call for the president to take a stand against "don't ask, don't tell," the policy that bars openly gay people from serving in the military. A repeal of the ban passed this year in the House but has stalled in the Senate.

This push from the left could complicate Obama's strategy as he tries to cope with the GOP gains in Congress.

In his post-election remarks, the president has repeatedly expressed worries about "gridlock" in Washington. He has signaled that he wants to find big issues on which to compromise, with an eye toward his reelection campaign in 2012.

But that signal has not gone over well with the liberal base. Nor did comments Wednesday by top Obama adviser David Axelrod, who told the Huffington Post that "we have to deal with the world as we find it." Liberals viewed the remarks as suggesting that the White House would accept a temporary extension of tax cuts for family income above $250,000. (The White House played down the remarks and said no formal decision has been made.)

"Democrats are not going to be a rubber stamp for deals [Obama] cuts with the Republicans in the House or the Senate," said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "Part of the battering we got [on Election Day] was about not being able to show our base we had done enough."

Before leaving on a trip to Asia this week, Obama emphasized his support for repealing "don't ask, don't tell" and not extending the tax cuts for upper-income Americans. But neither he nor his aides have said he would veto legislation that did not conform with those goals.

The threats from the left come as the Democrats are debating what happened in the midterm elections and how Obama and the broader party should react.

In an echo of intraparty discussions in 1994 and 2004 after major Republican victories, some Democrats blame what Obama called the "shellacking" on a massive defection of independent voters, caused by the recession as well as an agenda of policies such as health-care reform that scared away moderates.

"I don't think Russ Feingold lost because he wasn't liberal enough," said Matthew Bennett, a vice president at Third Way, a group that urges Democrats to focus on such issues as deficit reduction.

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