West Wing Briefing

Spinning the tax deal

Congress sent President Obama sweeping legislation late Thursday night to avoid a Jan. 1 spike in income taxes for millions and renew jobless benefits for victims of the worst recession in 80 years.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 17, 2010; 6:17 AM

Could the tax deal help President Obama bounce back from a self-described electoral shellacking?

Six weeks after his party took a drubbing at the polls that seemed to portend trouble for Obama in 2012, the agreement that was approved in Congress this week was a multi-faceted victory for the president.

The last two weeks may help Obama rebut conservatives who paint him as too liberal: left-leaning Democrats sharply criticized the agreement and said the president was too open to compromise.

After two years of fierce partisanship, it passed with a significant number of Democratic and Republican voters in both chambers of Congress, and polls showed Americans in both parties largely backed the agreement.

Obama was the most visible figure in Washington touting the agreement, leaving no question about his influence as Republicans prepare to take control of the House.

And with Americans expressing concerns about their pocketbooks, the deal avoids a tax increase for millions of Americans, expands unemployment benefits and could lead to some job creation.

To be sure, the agreement will also add hundreds of billions of dollars to the budget deficit and keeps in place tax cuts for upper-income Americans that Obama has criticized for years. (Read Steven Pearlstein on why Republicans love slashing taxes for the rich.) It showed a fissure between Obama and his party that could grow as the president compromises with the GOP on other issues.

And most Americans don't believe the tax agreement will improve the economy.

Politically, voters are of course unlikely to remember a tax agreement reached in 2010 on Election Day 2012. But Obama must hope it changes the perception that Washington is hopelessly divided and protect him against charges that he has done little to change that.

"I don't think there's a sense that I've been successful, I think that people feel that Washington still is dysfunctional," he acknowledged in an interview with Colorado's KUSA this week (if you click on the link, scroll down to the bottom for that quote, three paragraphs from the end).

Obama today

Two days after meeting with chief executives of 20 major companies, the president will host workers--or at least their representatives--at the White House.

Twelve leaders of major unions such as the National Education Association are arriving at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW on Friday for a session with Obama.

They won't get equal time however; the afternoon meeting is unlikely to last five hours like Obama's sitdown with the corporate chieftains.

But the meeting (and the White House's broadcasting of it to the press) is a sign that the administration is wary of appearing to ignore traditional allies such as labor unions as it courts Republicans and business leaders.

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