Facing frustration from Democrats, Obama defends tax cuts deal

President Barack Obama has announced a bipartisan agreement on year-end legislation to extend expiring tax cuts and renew jobless benefits as part of a sweeping attempt to strengthen the economic recovery. (Dec. 6)
By Scott Wilson, Felicia Sonmez and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 7, 2010; 5:00 PM

A defensive President Obama cast himself Tuesday as the guardian of middle-class Americans and the unemployed, saying sharply that he had to strike a deal with Senate Republicans over the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy in order to protect the fragile economic recovery.

Facing broad frustration from his party's liberal base and many Democrats on the Hill, Obama emphasized the portions of the compromise he reached the previous day that benefit middle class families and the jobless, whose government insurance would have expired without the deal.

Obama said he had little choice but to compromise because he has been unable to persuade Senate Republicans to maintain middle-class tax cuts without also extending the top-tier tax rates for another two years - even though a majority of Americans agree tax cuts on high incomes should end.

"A long political fight that carried over into next year might have been good politics, but it would be a bad deal for the economy and it would be a bad deal for the American people," Obama said during an afternoon news conference.

He also sharply criticized his party, accusing Democratic critics of failing to reasonably assess what he has achieved during a difficult political time. And he compared complaints that he has ceded too much ground on the tax debate to the objections from liberals during the health-care debate.

"This is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us," he said. "I know that shocks people. You know, the New York Times editorial page does not permeate across all of America. Neither does The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

"Most Americans, they're just trying to figure out how to - how to go about their lives and - and how can we make sure that our elected officials are looking out for us."

Obama spoke as Vice President Biden urged Senate Democrats to support the tax compromise, a $700 billion package that will be paid for through additional borrowing even as public concern mounts over the country's fiscal condition. Liberal Democrats, in particular, are furious over Obama's decision to extend the top-tier tax cuts. Obama campaigned in 2008 and again during the midterm season to end them.

Democrats emerged from their luncheon with Biden divided on the proposal.

"I'm not talking, I'm not talking," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose proposal to let the cuts lapse for income over $1 million was defeated Saturday on a 53 to 37 vote. Schumer has said some Senate Democrats favor allowing the entire Bush tax package to expire on schedule Dec. 31, forcing the next Congress to resolve the issue.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who is chairman of the Budget Committee and also a member of Obama's bipartisan deficit commission, told reporters that he was prepared to support the plan.

"There are parts of it that I dislike very much, but look, we've got to deal with reality here," Conrad said, adding that deficit reduction has "got to be the next shoe that drops here."

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