Obama Defends Tax Cut Deal As Democrats Signal Opposition

Amid signs that Democrats in Congress might rebel against the tax cut deal he struck with Republicans, President Obama took to the airwaves today to defend it at the same time that his base is rebelling against it.

After withstanding twelve hours of criticism mostly from his own party, President Obama held an afternoon press conference today to justify the deal he made with Republicans to preserve the Bush tax cuts for two more years:

A feisty President Obama came to the White House briefing room to defend his tax cut compromise with congressional Republicans and push back against criticism from Democrats and progressives that he sold out too much too quickly.

“This country was founded on compromise,” the president said in a hastily-called press conference. “I couldn’t go through the front door at this country’s founding.  And, you know, if we were really thinking about ideal positions, we wouldn’t have a union.”

The president said the criticism reminded him of when liberals attacked the health care bill for not including a publicly funded insurance option to compete with private insurers, for which there were not enough votes in the Senate.

“This is the public option debate all over again,” the president said. “So I pass a signature piece of legislation, where we finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats have been fighting for for a hundred years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn’t get, that would have affected maybe a couple of million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people and the potential for lower premiums for 100 million people, that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise.”

Clearly saying to Democrats that they cannot keep complaining every time they don’t get everything they want, the president said that “if that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it:  We will never get anything done.”

In that scenario, he said, “people will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people.  And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are, and in the meantime the American people are still seeing themselves not able to get health insurance because of preexisting condition, or not being able to pay their bills because their unemployment insurance ran out.”

The president noted that the U.S. “is a big, diverse country” where “not everybody agrees with us….the New York Times editorial page does not permeate across all of America.”

Obama seemed defensive throughout the press conference, and one can imagine that there have been more than a few tense meetings today between the White House and House and Senate Democrats, many of whom apparently still need to be persuaded to sign on to this deal:

A bloc of Senate Democrats could decide not to support a White House-brokered deal on tax cuts and unemployment benefits, thereby putting the plan in danger, according to the second-ranking Senate Democrat.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) suggested Monday evening that many caucus members could threaten to back away from the deal as leverage to ensure it gets what it wants from a potential compromise with Republicans.

“Well, there is, you know, there is a group that may walk. Let’s say at some point you’ve gone too far,” Durbin said during an interview on NPR. “If the Republicans overreach — if they start including some of their pet projects into this compromise when it comes to the tax code, you could find a walkout on the Democratic side. People saying, ‘You’ve just pushed it too far.’ “

If possible, the reception to the deal is even worse in the House:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday there was “no consensus or agreement reached by House leaders” on the deal Obama negotiated with the GOP, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized GOP provisions in the agreement.

In a post on Twitter, Pelosi said the GOP provisions in the tax proposal would add to the deficit and help the rich without creating jobs. The GOP provisions “help only wealthiest 3%, don’t create jobs & add tens of billions to deficit,” the Pelosi tweet said.

The Speaker expanded on her criticism of the Republican proposals in a statement that notably withheld any commitment of support.

“We will continue discussions with the president and our caucus in the days ahead,” Pelosi said. “Democratic priorities remain clear: to provide a tax cut for working families, to promote policies that produce jobs and economic growth, and to assist millions of our fellow Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.”

Hoyer (D-Md.) at his weekly press conference reiterated Democratic opposition to extending tax cuts for the wealthy and said House leaders would be discussing the deal with the Democratic Caucus “over the next few days.”

“We’d like the Senate to move first on this issue,” Hoyer told reporters.

It seems inconceivable to me that the President would announce a deal on extending the Bush tax cuts without having at least some assurance that his own party was with him, but that seems to be exactly what Obama has done here. Perhaps this is all posturing on the part of the House and Senate Democrats, but it’s fairly clear already that there’s going to be pressure on them from the progressive wing of the party to reject the tax deal. If that happens, Obama’s political problems will only be worse.

FILED UNDER: Taxes, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Steve Plunk says:

    It’s not a tax cut. It’s maintaining the current tax rates or not raising taxes. They better do something quick since word is Dec. 15 is the trigger date for massive sell offs on Wall Street to avoid those tax increases that were coming.

  2. legion says:

    “This country was founded on compromise,” the president said in a hastily-called press conference. “I couldn’t go through the front door at this country’s founding.
    Wow. The phrase “tone-deaf” just doesn’t even seem to cover this. I’m a white guy, born in ’70, and even I know that blacks got the rights they have today precisely because activists _refused_ to compromise. Separate but equal, anyone?

  3. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t think opposition from the Left hurts Obama. What could be better for him politically (and strategically) than forging an alliance of Republicans and moderate Dems? The Dems don’t have the votes to stop this, and it puts Obama right back in the center.

  4. sam says:

    Exactly right, MR. Nothing could be better for him, I think, than to have the Left, so-called, arrayed against him. The Plunkicans will be unmanned as far as sputtering, “But, but, but he’s the most left-wing president evah. How can this be???”

  5. ponce says:

    I sense Karl Rove’s hand behind this desperate attempt by far right bloggers to paint this as some kind of win for the Republicans.

    Do they really think the Tea Party won’t notice how many billions this deal is adding to the national debt?

    Matt Yglesias:

    “the progressive wonk consensus seems to be that the tax cut deal is . . . not as bad as people feared it would be based on what was happening the previous week. “

  6. sam says:

    And, I think, Kevin Drum’s take on the whole going off on the Left thing is probably spot on:

    “Why,” Kevin asks, “deliberately make things worse with his base during a press conference?”

    Answer 1: he just lost his temper a bit. It happens to everyone. Answer 2: it was all precisely calculated. He’s convinced that Democrats lost in November because of defections from independents, not liberals, so he’s trying to do everything he can to distance himself from the left and win back the center. My guess is that #1 accounts for 10% of his performance and #2 accounts for 90%. After all, we’ve seen this movie before in 1994.

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    So if Obama promises to end the “tax cuts for the rich” and fails to do so when he has the backing of both houses of congress yet when he loses that ability because the country just does not ,make sharp left turns well it is a win? That has the sound of a firm Maybe. Why don’t you echo chamber boys and that is boys with a small “b”, state your opinions where they are challenged by experts such as Jay Tea? Mantis can not because his stupidity is not welcome there. Wizbang anyone?

  8. Tano says:

    “…pressure on them from the progressive wing of the party to reject the tax deal. If that happens, Obama’s political problems will only be worse.”

    I seriously doubt this has any chance of happening. But if it does, I suspect Obama would actually emerge the stronger for it. He would be handed a triangulated position on a silver platter – he would appear to be the one grownup in the room willing to do what is necessary to get things done for the country. The Dems in Congress might take the biggest hit for not supporting the deal, but Obama himself could then hammer away at both sides for their rabid pursuit of partisan interest. He alone would occupy the center, or at least he would be the only significant figure there.

  9. Brian Knapp says:

    It’s not a tax cut. It’s maintaining the current tax rates or not raising taxes.

    The Clinton rates are the standard. The Bush rates are temporary (current). When they expire, the standard rates (Clinton) will apply. When Obama renews the Bush tax rates, they will be considered tax rates and will be “Obama’s” tax rates. They will still be temporary and not the “standard” rate.

    And since they are Obama’s now, we can all shout about how he contributed to the deficit even more in a wicked plot to turn us into communists.

  10. Brian Knapp says:

    “…they will be considered tax cuts…”

  11. Steve Plunk says:

    Brian, The Bush rates have been around long enough to be considered the standard. I know we are both just framing but which frame is more accurate? Keeping the status quo is not a cut.

    The straw man building is pointless. This is about fixing the economy by letting people keep their money. By keeping it in the private sector the stimulus effect is likely to be stronger than the previous attempts to stimulate through the public sector.

    Keep trying to paint conservatives as wanting to contribute to the deficit all you want. It’s the spending. Everyone knows that now and the Left’s attempts to blame it on too low of taxes has been outed as nonsense.

  12. tom p says:

    ‘The Bush rates have been around long enough to be considered the standard.’

    ‘The straw man building is pointless’

    Huh???? Steve, the Bush tax cuts have busted the budget…. That is not a straw man, that is a fact.

  13. floyd says:

    Tom P;
    More confiscation of private wealth will not balance the budget.
    Money to government is like booze to the alcoholic…that is a fact
    (well at least as much as your’s is)[lol]

  14. ponce says:

    “More confiscation of private wealth will not balance the budget.
    Money to government is like booze to the alcoholic…that is a fact”

    That’s an affirmation the rich Republicans have trained poor Republicans to say each day…

  15. anjin-san says:

    > This is about fixing the economy by letting people keep their money.

    Well, we had the Bush tax cuts in place in 2008, and the economy damn near crashed, and we have subsequently had the worst economic downturn in 70 years with them in place. The Bush tax cuts do not appear to have any magic pony properties that I can detect.

    Explain to me again how keeping them in place is going to “fix the economy”…

  16. Pete says:

    Anjin, the Bush tax cuts didn’t crash the economy. The Fed’s accomodative policy did. It allowed the housing market to balloon by keeping interest rates too low for too long. The Fed also screwed up the tech bubble.

    Simple question Anjin: would you trust me to invest your money more wisely than you could yourself? If so, please send me $50,000 and I promise I will invest it so you make money. If I fail to do so, what are you gonna do about it? If I lose the money are you willing to send me some more? What if I promised I would do better? And then lost that? Would you send me some more? Probably not, but if I got a law passed that you had to trust me and send some more, how would you feel about that?

    I hope you see the analogy. If not, use your imagination.

  17. ponce says:

    Well now,

    Representative Michele Bachmann and Senator Jim DeMint have both have both come out against the tax deal.

    Why would two such rabid Obama haters try to stop an Obama “defeat?”

  18. Pete says:

    Because the republicans have once again caved. After the biggest repudiation of a party in decades, the repubs now go wobbly and agree to compromises that they didn’t need to agree to. That is what has the Tea Party wing pissed off. They don’t believe they have to compromise.

  19. Pete says:

    Actually, this is how Hugh Hewitt put it:

    Senator JimDeMint just announced on my program that he will oppose the deal as well as a vote for cloture on the deal. He is reluctant to criticize GOP Senate leadership, but believes the deal at a minimum has to be paid for, and that we need “a permanent economy” not a temporary one as well as permanent tax cuts, not temporary tax cuts.

  20. floyd says:

    “”That’s an affirmation the rich Republicans have trained poor Republicans to say each day…””

    Pusillanimous nonsense

  21. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    You cannot balance the budget with taxes. Must cut spending because Democrats have no idea about how to pay debts, they can only find new programs to fund. Programs which don’t work. Must you be reminded the Democrats controlled both houses of congress for Bush’s last two years in office? Who ownes what I earn? Me or the government?

  22. ponce says:

    “Pusillanimous nonsense”

    “You cannot balance the budget with taxes”

    The key to being a bulletproof member of the extreme right is to avoid making objectively false statements like these two and stick to vague whines about how whites are being oppressed in America.

  23. anjin-san says:

    > Anjin, the Bush tax cuts didn’t crash the economy

    Did not say they did. Read more carefully.

  24. Neil Hudelson says:

    “Who ownes what I earn? Me or the government?”

    What you “earn” is coming from UI…so the government actually.

  25. floyd says:

    To what do you reference the “UI” initials? Could it be “Urinary Incontinence” since it is clear that the government at all levels tends to “piss away” as much of what Americans earn as they can get their hands on.?
    Without property rights, a citizen is reduced to a subject and therefore a slave.

  26. matt says:

    So let me get this right. Increases taxes won’t balance the budget because the politicians will just spend the extra money. So what is preventing those same politicians from spending the money they save from cutting programs? In the end both result in extra money…

  27. floyd says:

    “So let me get this right”

    A novel but laudible concept. Keep trying!