Obama Launches a Vigorous Defense of His Tax Agreement

President Obama defends his tax cut deal
President Obama defends his tax cut deal

President Barack Obama on Tuesday gave at times an impassioned defense of a deal reached with Republican lawmakers that temporarily extends Bush-era tax cuts for the rich for two more years, in exchange for middle-class tax cuts and extension of recently expired unemployment benefits.

"Because of this agreement, middle-class Americans won't see their taxes go up on Jan. 1, which is what I promised," the president said during a press conference shortly after the deal with GOP lawmakers was reached. Further, the said, the pact also means 2 million unemployed Americans will continue to receive jobless benefits.

"This isn't an abstract debate," the president said. "This is real money for real people that will make a real difference in the lives of the folks who sent us here."

A GOP "Holy Grail"

In response to reporters' questions about critics' complaints that the president wasn't willing to stand up to Republicans and demand that tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans be allowed to expire beginning next year, the president said an extended battle would have been bad for both the American people and the still-recovering U.S. economy.

Obama, however, promised to press on to ensure that tax cuts for the rich aren't yet again extended when they expire in 2012, when he's up for reelection.

"The problem is that Republicans feel that this is the most important thing they have to fight for as a party," the president said. Likening the tax cuts to the Republicans' "holy grail," Obama said, "It seems to be their economic doctrine."

Just Like in the Health Care Battle

Refusing to negotiate with Senate Republicans may have seemed a tempting strategy, not unlike refusing to deal with hostage takers, until hostages get hurt, he said. "Then, people will question the wisdom of that strategy," he said, adding in this instance it was the American people who were the hostages, and he wasn't willing to see them harmed.

"This notion that somehow we are going to compromise too much reminds me of the debate we had during health care," Obama said, referring to the administration's decision to forgo a public option to ensure that a comprehensive health-care overhaul bill was passed.

The president bristled at suggestions that he didn't fight hard enough to defend the positions of those in the Democratic Party who oppose tax cuts for the rich and that he shouldn't compromise with the Republicans.

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Despite achieving a "signature piece of legislation" that Democrats have been fighting for 100 years, Obama said, some critics viewed the decision to strip out the public option to ensure the larger health care measure passed as "a sign of weakness and compromise."

If that's the standard by which success or sticking to core principals is measured, the president said, "We will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people."

Obama urged Democrats who may be discouraged by his decision to compromise with Republicans to keep their sights on the long term. "Look at what I promised during the campaign," he said. "There's not a single thing that I said that I would do that I have not either done or tried to do. And if I haven't gotten it done yet, I'm still trying to do it."