Political Highlights December 13, 2010: President Obama & Bill Clinton Sell Tax Cut Extension at Press White House Press Conferences

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 111TH & 112TH CONGRESS:

President Obama & President Clinton Shake Hands Before   Discussing Tax Cuts, Unemployment Insurance & Jobs President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton appear together in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House for statements and to answer questions from the media, December 10, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

STATS & POLLS

Barack Obama's approval rating has dipped below George W. Bush,   according to Gallup. Applewhite/AP Barack Obama’s approval rating has dipped below George W. Bush, according to Gallup.

  • President Barack Obama’s approval rating is below George W. Bush: Gallup Poll: This one’s gotta hurt. President Obama’s approval rating has dipped below, gulp, George W. Bush. The ex-President’s approval rating rose to 47% in recent weeks according to a Gallup poll released Monday, which is one point higher than Obama’s rating in a survey also taken this week. The poll results represent a surprising rebound for the once fiercely unpopular Bush, whose approval rating was just 25% just a little over a year ago. Politico speculates the unexpected boomerang could be a result of the positive reviews Bush’s recently released memoir, “Decision Points,” has received in addition to the former commander-in-chief’s opening of a presidential library in Texas. That coupled with criticism over Obama’s handling of the economy and stinging Democratic losses in the midterm elections, may have affected Americans’ views of the President. Before the release of his memoir, Bush had a 44% approval rating. The most recent survey numbers mark the highest for him since 2005 – before Hurricane Katrina – CBS News reported. Bush’s highest rating was 87%, immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Still, it’s not all good news for the former President. His disapproval rating, (51%) is still higher than his approval rating, a similarity he shares with Richard Nixon, whose approval rating is just 29%. Obama’s disapproval rating (47%) is just one point higher than his approval rating. John F. Kennedy remains the most popular President in Gallup’s annual poll with 85% approval. Ronald Reagan came in second with 74%, followed by Bill Clinton’s 69%. – NY Daily News, 12-
  • Poll: Obama’s approval ratings fall to new low: President Barack Obama’s approval ratings have sunk to the lowest level of his presidency, so low that he’d lose the White House to Republican Mitt Romney if the election were held today, according to a new McClatchy Newspapers-Marist poll. The biggest reason for Obama’s fall: a sharp drop in approval among Democrats and liberals, apparently unhappy with his moves toward the center since he led the party to landslide losses in November’s midterm elections. At the same time, he’s gained nothing among independents. “He’s having the worst of both worlds right now,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the national survey. “As he moves to the center, he’s not picking up support among independents and he’s having some fall-off among his base. If his strategy is to gain independents and keep the Democrats in tow, it isn’t working so far.” The poll was taken from Dec. 2 through Wednesday, as the president proposed a two-year freeze on federal civilian workers’ pay and cut a deal with congressional Republicans to extend expiring tax cuts – even those for the wealthy, which he’d opposed. Overall, just 42 percent of registered voters approve of how he’s doing his job, while 50 percent disapprove. Obama’s standing among Democrats dropped from a month ago, with his approval rating falling to 74 percent from 83 percent, and his disapproval rating rising from 11 percent to 21 percent. Among liberals, his approval rating dropped from 78 percent to 69 percent and his disapproval rating jumped from 14 percent to 22 percent. His position among independents remained virtually the same, with 39 percent approving and 52 percent disapproving. A month ago, it was 38-54…. – McClatchy Newspapers, 12-10-10
  • Poll: Obama’s approval ratings fall to new low: The president’s continued failure to rally independents could ruin his bid for re-election. A hypothetical 2012 matchup showed him getting the support of 44 percent of registered voters and Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, getting 46 percent. Obama now is running slightly ahead of Republican former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, drawing 47 percent to Huckabee’s 43 percent. Both results were within the poll’s margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. He would easily defeat Republican former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, however; he’d get 52 percent of registered voters and she’d get 40 percent, if the election were held today…. – McClatchy Newspapers, 12-10-10
  • Poll: Americans Want Action on the Deficit, but Oppose Most Proposals to Cut It: Amid all the discussion and debate about the deficit and what to do about it, several hard truths keep emerging: an overwhelming majority of Americans believe it is a major problem and almost none of the most widely mentioned proposals to cut the red ink by reducing spending or raising taxes get majority support from the public. Those realities stand out starkly in a new Pew Research Center poll, conducted Dec. 1-5, in which 70 percent of Americans say the deficit is a major problem that must be solved now, but disapprove by a big margin of the deficit commission’s plan to get the red ink under control. Forty-eight percent opposed the commission’s proposal — which would do things like cut spending for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and eliminate the popular home mortgage interest deduction — while 30 percent supported it, with 21 percent undecided. While 7 out of 10 want action on the deficit, it takes a back seat to concern over jobs. Forty-seven percent said the job situation is the economic issue that worries them most compared to 19 percent who cited the deficit. Throw into this mix the lack of confidence that the public has in Democratic or Republicans leaders to address the problem. Fifty-six percent say they have “not too much” or no confidence in the Republicans compared to 40 percent who do, while 52 percent have little or no confidence in the Democrats compared to 42 percent who do. (The remainder in each case is undecided). President Obama fares better, with 53 percent expressing confidence in him while 44 percent do not, with the rest undecided…. – Politics Daily,, 12-9-10

THE HEADLINES….

President Obama News Conference
White House Photo, Chuck Kennedy, 12/7/10

  • Tax cuts will pass despite Democratic uprising, Obama advisor says: Congress will approve without major changes the $858-billion package that extends tax cuts and jobless benefits, says President Obama’s senior advisor David Axelrod: ‘No one wants to see taxes go up on 150 million Americans.’ A top advisor to President Obama said Sunday a $858-billion package of tax cuts and jobless benefits will pass Congress without major changes, despite a revolt by some House Democrats. Senior advisor David Axelrod, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the administration would prevail on the deal struck with GOP lawmakers “because at the end of the day, no one wants to see taxes go up on 150 million Americans on Jan. 1.” A showdown in the lame-duck Congress is coming this week. Axelrod told ABC’s “This Week” that some provisions of the compromise struck with Republican lawmakers were “odious.” He cited upper-income tax cuts and estate-tax relief. But that’s the nature of compromise, he said, calling the overall package a “win for the American people.”… – LAT, 12-12-10
  • US diplomat Richard Holbrooke critically ill after surgery Richard Holbrooke, the veteran US diplomatic trouble-shooter nicknamed “the bulldozer”, was in critical condition in hospital on Saturday with his family by his bedside after emergency heart surgery: The 69-year-old has maintained a gruelling work and travel schedule as President Barack Obama’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan for nearly two years. A forceful negotiator, he was best-known for brokering the 1995 Bosnian peace accords in Dayton, Ohio, that ended the ended the bloody ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslav republic. Mr Holbrooke, a key but controversial player in Mr Obama’s efforts to turn around the nine-year-old war in Afghanistan, was working at the State Department when he fell ill on Friday. He was rushed to the nearby George Washington University hospital where he underwent surgery to a torn aorta, the major artery carrying blood from the heart to other parts of the body. “Doctors completed surgery to repair a tear in his aorta,” a State Department spokesman said. “He is in critical condition and has been joined by his family.” His friend and boss, secretary of state Hillary Clinton, visited the hospital on Saturday…. – Telegraph, UK, 12-11-10
  • Bill Clinton Holds Forth on Tax Plan, for Starters: They have been foes and they have been, kind of, friends. And on Friday afternoon, President Obama and former President Bill Clinton walked unexpectedly into the White House briefing room for a news conference that was part surreal flashback, part one-two political punch. With Mr. Obama standing largely silently at his side, Mr. Clinton took over the lectern to lend his backing to the tax compromise the White House reached this week with Republicans. And then Mr. Clinton went on, for half an hour, answering questions and holding forth on topics from triangulation to Haiti to the mortgage crisis and the nuclear arms treaty with Russia. “I have reviewed this agreement that the president reached with the Republican leaders,” Mr. Clinton told reporters. “The agreement taken as a whole is, I believe, the best bipartisan agreement we can reach to help the most Americans.” After finishing one soliloquy, Mr. Clinton summed up with, “for what it’s worth, it’s what I think.” From the side, and just out of camera range, Mr. Obama piped up: “It’s worth a lot.” “I’ve been keeping the first lady waiting,” Mr. Obama said. “I don’t want to make her mad,” Mr. Clinton quipped. “Please go.” “In my opinion, this is a good bill, and I hope that my fellow Democrats will support it,” Mr. Clinton said. “We all see this differently. But I really believe this will be a significant net plus for the country.” “There are a lot of fights worth having,” he said, “but this holds the promise that after the fights are over, we will be able to find principled compromise on those as well. To me, that’s worth doing.” – NYT, 12-10-10
  • If Bill Clinton Were President: By the end of last week, it certainly looked as if Barack Obama had outsourced his presidency to Bill Clinton. First, he cut a Clintonian-style deal with Republicans on tax cuts and then he literally turned over the White House lectern to his predecessor. STAND IN Bill Clinton took the podium from President Obama on Friday. Equally riveting and astonishing, Mr. Clinton’s blast-from-the-past performance in the White House briefing room on Friday afternoon reinforced the impression of political déjà vu, the sense that once again a Democratic president humbled by midterm elections was pivoting to the center at the expense of his own supporters. But as no less an authority than Mr. Clinton reminded us, the comparison is incomplete and imperfect. “The story line is how well we worked with the Republicans and all that,” he said during his brief West Wing comeback. “But you know, we played political kabuki for a year.” Indeed, the real history of his response to the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 was more complicated than the reductionist version. And so far, Mr. Obama’s response to the November elections has been more complicated as well. The current president’s uncomfortable tax compromise with Republicans harked back to only one aspect of Mr. Clinton’s recovery strategy in 1995 and 1996, although the howls of protest from the left must have sounded familiar to the visiting former chief executive. Mr. Clinton’s approach involved as much confrontation as conciliation, and most of all, improvisation. Even in the few weeks since the Republican election victory, Mr. Obama has already sampled from the full menu of options. On the tax cuts, he concluded that he had little choice but to cut a deal with Republicans, conceding to them one of their core priorities and angering his own supporters even as he squeezed out of the opposition as many concessions as he could to balance the agreement…. – NYT, 12-11-10
  • Add-ons turn tax cut bill into ‘Christmas tree’: In the spirit of the holiday season, President Barack Obama’s tax-cut deal with Republicans is becoming a Christmas tree tinseled with gifts for lobbyists and lawmakers. There are ethanol subsidies for rural folks, commuter tax breaks for their cousins in the cities and suburbs, wind and solar grants for the environmentalists — all aimed at winning votes, particularly from reluctant Democrats. The holiday additions are being hung on the big bill that was Congress’ main reason for spending December in Washington, long after the elections that will give Republicans new power in January. The measure will extend Bush-era tax cuts, averting big tax increases for nearly all Americans, and keep jobless benefits flowing. Republicans generally liked that agreement, worked out by Obama and GOP leaders. Democrats generally didn’t, hence the add-ons…. – AP, 12-10-10
  • Bill’s Back: Clinton commands stage at White House: No comment? No way. You don’t stop Bill Clinton when he’s back at the White House with something to say. Well, OK. He and President Barack Obama, two of the most famous men in the world, did need a little help getting a door unlocked first. But then it was on. The former president came before surprised reporters to let it be known that he endorsed the tax deal that Obama cut with the Republican Party, even though many Democrats were raising a fuss about it. That was the news. But it wasn’t the story. What had the West Wing buzzing was the scene itself: Clinton in his element, like he had never left. And almost like he wasn’t going to leave this time. For one remarkable half hour, Clinton turned a seemingly slow Friday afternoon into his stage. He tutored in loving detail about economic theory and nuclear disarmament. He was short on time, yet somehow found some for just one more question. He bit on his lip and spread his arms as he spoke and did all those other familiar gestures…. – AP, 12-10-10
  • Obama enlists Clinton to sell tax deal: President Barack Obama on Friday enlisted former President Bill Clinton to help sell a compromise tax package negotiated with Republicans to reluctant Democrats. After meeting with Clinton at the White House, Obama brought him to the briefing room to tout the proposal to reporters, even backing off after a brief introduction to let Clinton do the talking and take questions. “I personally think this is a good deal, and the best we can get,” Clinton said, arguing that the combination of payroll tax cuts, unemployment insurance benefits and various tax credits would help the economy grow. Acknowledging that the Republican insistence on extending tax cuts to the wealthy would help him personally, Clinton said the compromise meant that both sides had to accept provisions they disliked. “There’s never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan,” Clinton said. “I believe this will be a significant net-plus for the country.” It was the latest salvo by the Obama administration in a battle for public and political support for the plan that combines extended tax cuts from the Bush era with extended unemployment benefits, tax breaks and the payroll tax holiday intended to bolster a sluggish recovery from economic recession…. – CNN, 12-10-10
  • How tax cut revolt helps Obama: It’s a page from Clinton playbook Perhaps President Obama’s tax-cut deal with the GOP was astute, after all. While he angered liberals, he also won back some independent support – an example of Clintonian ‘triangulation.’: Former President Clinton’s impromptu press conference in the White House briefing room Friday – in which he announced his support of President Obama’s tax-cut deal with the Republicans – could not have put in sharper relief the new political landscape in Washington. Sixteen years ago, Mr. Clinton was in the same situation Mr. Obama finds himself in today: the Democratic majority in Congress swept out of power, and the need to rethink how policy is formed. For Clinton, the answer was “triangulation,” the practice of meeting Republicans part-way, often to the chagrin of Democrats. Obama already appears to be getting the hang of it. This week’s crackup between Obama and his liberal base over a tax-cut deal he reached with the Republicans seemed poised to threaten Obama’s support among the progressive grassroots, whose energy and donations he will need to win reelection. But just as easily, it opens him up to a second look from independents and moderates who abandoned the Democrats in the midterms and whose support he needs if he wants a second term…. – CS Monitor, 12-10-10
  • Gates Regrets Rejection of ‘Don’t Ask’ Repeal: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on Friday that he was disappointed “but not surprised” by the Senate vote late Thursday that dimmed chances for repeal this year of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law. Speaking to reporters on his plane during a flight from Abu Dhabi to Washington, Mr. Gates said that he had not been optimistic that the Senate would repeal the law, which requires gay men, lesbians and bisexual people in the military to keep their sexual orientation secret or face discharge. Nonetheless, he held out some possibility that the Senate might end the policy by other means, even though time is rapidly running out before the end of the year. “There is still roughly a week left in the lame-duck session and so I would hope that the Congress would act to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,'” Mr. Gates said. He was evidently referring to a plan late Thursday by Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, to pull the measure out of the military spending bill it is attached to and try to pass it as stand-alone legislation. If that does not happen, Mr. Gates repeated warnings that the Pentagon would face what he has described as judicial chaos. “My greatest worry will be that then we are at the mercy of the courts and all the lack of predictability that that entails,” he said…. – NYT, 12-10-10
  • Senate halts repeal of ban on gays serving openly in the military: The Senate voted 57 to 40 against bringing to the floor a defense spending bill that included a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The vote delivers a significant blow to efforts to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military. –
  • Democrats demand changes in Obama-GOP tax deal: Disappointed Democratic congressional leaders demanded changes in the White House’s tax deal with Republicans on Tuesday despite a spirited argument by President Barack Obama that concessions were preferable to higher taxes for millions of Americans. In a remarkable political role reversal, Republicans lined up to support the package, while lawmakers of the president’s party said they were prepared to oppose it. Liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pledged to “do everything I can to defeat this,” including a filibuster to prevent a final vote. The deal includes an extension of expiring Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels — not just for lower and middle-income taxpayers, as Democrats wanted. It also contains a renewal of jobless benefits due to expire in a few weeks, and a one-year cut in Social Security taxes paid by workers. Other elements would loosen the estate tax and provide breaks for businesses to spur hiring. Officials said that overall, the proposal could add $900 billion to the federal deficit over two years. Democratic opposition focused chiefly on two parts of the deal that marked concessions to Republicans — the decision to let expiring tax cuts remain in effect for people in upper incomes, and a change in the estate tax that the GOP has long sought…. – AP, 12-7-10
  • Obama defends tax deal at news conference: One day after announcing a framework for a deal that would preserve the very tax cuts for the wealthy that he promised would be allowed expire, a fiery President Obama today defended the agreement, saying that he did not want to hurt the American people or the economy with a protracted political fight. Under the agreement — which has angered many Democrats, especially in the House — the Bush-era tax rates would be extended for two years for people at all income levels, unemployment insurance would be extended for 13 months, and payroll taxes would be decreased by 2 percentage points for one year. According to a fact sheet provided by the White House, the deal would allow a typical working family to avoid a $3,000 tax increase next year. At a hastily convened news conference in the press briefing room, the president vowed to continue the debate over tax cuts for the rich, saying he would fight to end them when they expire again. In a nod to his pragmatic governing philosophy, Obama said a refusal to compromise on any issue would lead nowhere and he asked members of his own party to remember “this is a long game, not a short game.” “This country was founded on compromise,” Obama said. “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. So my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there: What is helping the American people live out their lives?”… – MSNBC, 12-7-10
  • Obama urges Democrats to support tax cut deal: President Obama on Tuesday defended the deal he reached with Republicans on extending a broad range of expiring tax cuts, saying he did not want Americans to be harmed while he engages in a long-term political fight with the GOP. Obama held a hastily arranged news conference to answer questions on the agreement struck late Monday. Vice President Biden went to Capitol Hill to sell the agreement to Democrats who played no part in reaching a compromise Obama said he struck because Republicans would not budge. “The deal we struck here … gives us time to have a political battle,” Obama said, adding that he was unwilling to see millions of Americans “immediately damaged at a time when the economy is about to recover.”… “To my Democratic friends, what I’d suggest is let’s make sure that we understand this is a long game. This is not a short game,” Obama said…. “In order to get stuff done, we’re going to have to compromise,” Obama said. “This country was founded on compromise.”… – USA Today, 12-7-10
  • Tax Deal Suggests New Path for Obama: President Obama announced a tentative deal with Congressional Republicans on Monday to extend the Bush-era tax cuts at all income levels for two years as part of a package that would also keep benefits flowing to the long-term unemployed, cut payroll taxes for all workers for a year and take other steps to bolster the economy. President Obama, who on Monday visited Greensboro, N.C., announced from the White House his deal with the Republicans. The deal appeared to resolve the first major standoff since the midterm elections between the White House and newly empowered Republicans on Capitol Hill. But it also highlighted the strains Mr. Obama faces in his own party as he navigates between a desire to get things done and a retreat from his own positions and the principles of many liberals. Congressional Democrats pointedly noted that they had yet to agree to any deal, even as many Republicans signaled that they would go along. Mr. Obama said that he did not like some elements of the framework, but that he had agreed to it to avoid having taxes increase for middle class Americans at the end of the year. He said that in return for agreeing to Republican demands that income tax rates not go up on upper-income brackets, he had secured substantial assistance to lower- and middle-income workers as well as the unemployed. “It’s not perfect, but this compromise is an essential step on the road to recovery,” Mr. Obama said. “It will stop middle-class taxes from going up. It will spur our private sector to create millions of new jobs, and add momentum that our economy badly needs.”… – NYT, 12-6-10
  • Payroll Tax Holiday Discussed in Talks on Bush Rates: The Obama administration proposed a year-long reduction in payroll taxes of 2 percentage points as part of a broader compromise to extend Bush-era tax cuts temporarily, a congressional aide said. The proposed reduction was offered as an alternative to renewing the “Making Work Pay” tax credit, a creation of President Barack Obama that expires Dec. 31 along with lower income-tax rates enacted in 2001 and 2003, the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Some Senate Republicans oppose the credit. Negotiators also are discussing including Obama’s proposal to allow a full deduction for equipment purchases that currently must be deducted over time, an administration official said. The proposal would accelerate $200 billion in tax savings for companies in the first year and benefit 1.5 million companies and several million individuals who run businesses, according to White House estimates…. – Bloomberg, 12-6-10
  • Source: White House presents proposed tax deal to Democratic leaders: President Barack Obama presented congressional Democratic leaders Monday with a proposed deal with Republicans that would extend Bush-era tax cuts for two years and unemployment benefits for 13 months while also setting the estate tax at 35% for two years on inheritances worth more than $5 million, a senior Democratic source told CNN. The deal also includes a temporary 2% reduction in the payroll tax to replace Obama’s “making work pay” tax credit from the 2009 economic stimulus package for lower-income Americans, the senior Democratic source said. As currently crafted, the deal would prohibit amendments by either party, according to the source, who spoke on condition of not being identified by name…. – CNN, 12-6-10

111TH & 112TH CONGRESS

  • GOP freshmen back to Washington: Freshman members haven’t even been sworn in yet, but they’re already heading to Washington for another round of orientation — this time to learn about policy issues and begin the committee assignment process. The Republican freshmen class — 84 members strong — is in town for a “retreat” hosted by the Congressional Institute at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, with workshops in which they’ll learn about congressional process and rules before they meet with their conference to determine chairmanships and begin to hash out committee assignments…. – Politico, 12-7-10

ELECTIONS 2010, 2012….

  • Obama’s Tax Deal Likely to Emerge as Campaign Issue in 2012: If Congress approves President Obama’s deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two more years, the compromise is all but certain to be a major issue in the next election cycle. “I’m a little bit surprised that there weren’t more people pushing to have this be a three-year deal instead of a two-year deal,” said Andy Card, the former White House chief of staff to President George W. Bush. “Because they’ve guaranteed that taxes will be front and center of the debate in terms of the presidential election in 2012. Which means it’s also going to be front and center for the election for every member of Congress and for one third of the United States Senate.”… The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint oppose it. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee support it. And former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence either aren’t sure or are just staying mum. Obama, who met with congressional leaders on Nov. 30 to work on this deal says he’s focused on the issue at hand right now. “These aren’t times for us to be playing games,” he said. “As I told the leaders at the beginning of the meeting, the next election is two years away and there will be plenty of time for campaigning.”… – Fox News, 12-11-10

QUOTES

President Obama & President Clinton Discuss Tax Cuts,   Unemployment Insurance & Jobs President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton make statements and answer questions from the press corps in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, December 10, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

  • WEEKLY ADDRESS: President Obama Strongly Urges Passage of the Framework Agreement on Middle Class Tax Cuts Remarks of President Barack Obama Weekly Address The White House December 11, 2010: Right now, there’s a big debate taking place in Washington that will affect how much you pay in taxes next year. If Congress doesn’t act, tax rates will automatically go up for just about everyone in our country. Typical middle class families would end up paying an extra $3,000. That’s unacceptable to me. Not when we know that it’s the middle class that was hit the hardest by the recession. And not when we know that taking this money out of the pockets of working people is exactly the wrong thing to do to get our economy growing faster. Economists tell us that this tax hike on working families could actually cost us well over a million jobs. That’s why I’ve been fighting so hard to cut middle class taxes. And that’s why I brought both Democrats and Republicans to the table – to put together a compromise, and work through our differences, so we could get this done. Now, the Republicans in Congress strongly favored permanent tax breaks for the wealthiest taxpayers and the wealthiest estates, most of which would go to millionaires and even billionaires. But I didn’t believe that these tax cuts were worth the cost. They’d add to our deficits without really boosting the economy. I believed that the best way to help the economy, and working families, was to keep middle class tax rates low, and cut taxes for working parents, college students, and small businesses. And I believed that with millions of people looking for jobs, it would be a terrible mistake to end unemployment insurance – not only for people who are out of work, but for our entire economy. So we hammered out a deal that reflects ideas from both sides. It wasn’t easy, and it’s by no means perfect. And as with any compromise, everybody had to live with elements they didn’t like. But this is a good deal for the American people. The vast majority of the tax cuts in this plan will help the middle class, including a new cut in payroll taxes that will save the average family about $1,000. And as this plan is debated in Congress, what I want to make clear is the real difference it will make in people’s lives…. So this plan is going to help millions of families to make ends meet, through tax cuts and unemployment insurance for people who’ve lost their jobs by no fault of their own. And we included tax relief for businesses, too – making it easier for them to invest and expand. All told, this will not only directly help families and businesses. By putting more money in people’s pockets, and helping companies grow, we’re going to see people being able to spend a little more, we’re going to spur hiring – we’re going to strengthen our entire economy. Now, I recognize that many of my friends in my own party are uncomfortable with some of what’s in this agreement, in particular the temporary tax cuts for the wealthy. And I share their concerns. It’s clear that over the long run, if we’re serious about balancing the budget, we cannot afford to continue these tax breaks for the wealthiest taxpayers – especially when we know that cutting the deficit is going to demand sacrifice from everyone. That’s the reality. But at the same time, we cannot allow the middle class in this country to be caught in the political crossfire of Washington. People want us to find solutions, not score points. And I will not allow middle class families to be treated like pawns on a chessboard. The opportunity for families to send their kids to college hinges on this debate. The ability of parents to put food on the table while looking for a job depends on this debate. And our recovery will be strengthened or weakened based on the choice that now rests with Congress. So I strongly urge members of both parties to pass this plan. And I’m confident that they will do the right thing, strengthening the middle class and our economic recovery. – – TranscriptMp4Mp3
  • Remarks by President Obama and Former President Clinton: PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hey, everybody. I thought it was a slow day, so I’ve –Q Slow news day, huh? PRESIDENT OBAMA: — bring the other guy in. Obviously, there’s a big debate going on about taxes, and about the need to grow the economy and to create jobs. And just about every day this week, I’ve been making an argument as to why the agreement that we’ve struck to provide billions of dollars in payroll tax cuts that can immediately help rejuvenate the economy, as well as tax cuts for middle-class families, unemployment insurance for folks who desperately need it, credits for college, Child Tax Credits, as well as a range of business investments credits are so important to make sure that we keep this recovery moving. I just had a terrific meeting with the former President, President Bill Clinton. And we just happened to have this as a topic of conversation. And I thought, given the fact that he presided over as good an economy as we’ve seen in our lifetimes, that it might be useful for him to share some of his thoughts. I’m going to let him speak very briefly. And then I’ve actually got to go over and do some — just one more Christmas party. So he may decide he wants to take some questions, but I want to make sure that you guys hear it from him directly. FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you very much, Mr. President. First of all, I feel awkward being here, and now you’re going to leave me all by myself. (Laughter.) Let me just say a couple of things. First of all, I still spend about an hour a day trying to study this economy. And I’m not running for anything, and I don’t have a political agenda. I just — I try to figure out what to do. I have reviewed this agreement that the President reached with Republican leaders. And I want to make full disclosure I make quite a bit of money now, so the position that the Republicans have urged will personally benefit me. And on its own, I wouldn’t support it because I don’t think that my tax cut is the most economically efficient way to get the economy going again. But I don’t want to be in the dark about the fact that I will receive the continuation of the tax rates. However, the agreement taken as a whole is, I believe, the best bipartisan agreement we can reach to help the largest number of Americans, and to maximize the chances that the economic recovery will accelerate and create more jobs, and to minimize the chances that it will slip back, which is what has happened in other financial collapses. Like, that’s what Japan faced, and it’s something that we have to avoid in America. Why do I say that? First of all, because clearly the extension of unemployment, which gives people a percentage of the income they were previously making, will — that money will be spent and it will bolster the economy for the next couple of years. Secondly, the conversion of the Make Work Pay Tax Credit, which the President passed before, which goes to — went to 95 percent of the American people, converting that into an $120 billion one-year payroll tax relief act is, according to all the economic analyses, the single most effective tax cut you can do to support economic activity. This will actually create a fair number of jobs. I expect it to lower the unemployment rate and keep us going. Thirdly, and one thing I haven’t seen much about in the reports, this agreement will really help America over the long term, because it continues the credits for manufacturing jobs related to energy coming in to America. And I’ll remind you, just in the last two years, there have been 30 high-powered battery factories either opened or presently being built in America, taking us from 2 to 20 percent of the world’s share of that. And we’re going to probably be at 40 percent by 2014. This is a really important thing, bringing manufacturing back to America, because it’s a huge multiplier to create new jobs. So in my opinion, this is a good bill. And I hope that my fellow Democrats will support it. I thank the Republican leaders for agreeing to include things that were important to the President. There is never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan. And we all see this differently. But I really believe this will be a significant net-plus for the country. I also think that in general a lot of people are heaving a sigh of relief that there’s finally been some agreement on something. But don’t minimize the impact of the unemployment relief for working families, of the payroll tax relief, and of the continuation of the incentives to grow jobs, which will trigger more credit coming out of the banks. Keep in mind, ultimately the long-term answer here is to get the $2 trillion, which banks now have in cash reserves uncommitted to loans, out there in the economy again, the $1.8 trillion in corporate treasuries not now being invested out there in the economy again. I think this is a net-plus. And you know how I feel. I think the people that benefit most should pay most. That’s always been my position — not for class warfare reasons; for reasons of fairness in rebuilding the middle class in America. But we have the distribution of authority we have now in the Congress and what we’re going to have in January, and I think this is a much, much better agreement than would be reached were we to wait until January. And I think it will have a much more positive impact on the economy. So for whatever it’s worth, that’s what I think. PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s worth a lot…. – WH, 12-10-10TranscriptMp4Mp3
  • President Obama on the Middle Class Tax Cuts and Unemployment Insurance Agreement: “A Good Deal For The American People”: I’m focused on making sure that tens of millions of hardworking Americans are not seeing their paychecks shrink on January 1st just because the folks here in Washington are busy trying to score political points. And because of this agreement, middle-class Americans won’t see their taxes go up on January 1st, which is what I promised — a promise I made during the campaign, a promise I made as President. Because of this agreement, 2 million Americans who lost their jobs and are looking for work will be able to pay their rent and put food on their table. And in exchange for a temporary extension of the high-income tax breaks — not a permanent but a temporary extension — a policy that I opposed but that Republicans are unwilling to budge on, this agreement preserves additional tax cuts for the middle class that I fought for and that Republicans opposed two years ago. I’ll cite three of them. Number one, if you are a parent trying to raise your child or pay college tuition, you will continue to see tax breaks next year. Second, if you’re a small business looking to invest and grow, you’ll have a tax cut next year. Third, as a result of this agreement, we will cut payroll taxes in 2011, which will add about $1,000 to the take-home pay of a typical family. So this isn’t an abstract debate. This is real money for real people that will make a real difference in the lives of the folks who sent us here. It will make a real difference in the pace of job creation and economic growth. In other words, it’s a good deal for the American people. Now, I know there are some who would have preferred a protracted political fight, even if it had meant higher taxes for all Americans, even if it had meant an end to unemployment insurance for those who are desperately looking for work. And I understand the desire for a fight. I’m sympathetic to that. I’m as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I’ve been for years. In the long run, we simply can’t afford them. And when they expire in two years, I will fight to end them, just as I suspect the Republican Party may fight to end the middle-class tax cuts that I’ve championed and that they’ve opposed. So we’re going to keep on having this debate. We’re going to keep on having this battle. But in the meantime I’m not here to play games with the American people or the health of our economy. My job is to do whatever I can to get this economy moving. My job is to do whatever I can to spur job creation. My job is to look out for middle-class families who are struggling right now to get by and Americans who are out of work through no fault of their own. 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. And my responsibility as President is to do what’s right for the American people. That’s a responsibility I intend to uphold as long as I am in this office…. – WH, 12-7-10TranscriptMp3Mp4 Video
  • Democrats Urge Senate Leaders to Add Build Americas to Tax Deal: Senate Democrats are seeking changes to a tax-cut agreement President Barack Obama reached with Republican lawmakers, said Majority Leader Harry Reid, who hopes to bring the measure to the floor this week. Some changes “would make the bill much better, and I’m going to work on those,” Reid of Nevada told reporters after meeting with members of his party today to discuss the plan. He said he hopes the Senate would take the measure up “in the next day or two.” Asked whether the Senate would have the votes to pass the measure, he said, “I hope so.” – Bloomberg, 12-8-10
  • Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Republican leadership, said he expects few changes to the negotiated pact, even though Democrats may want them. “I don’t think there’s going to be any real changes to speak of,” he said.
  • Obama earlier today rejected the notion that he betrayed congressional Democrats by making the deal. “I think Democrats are looking at this bill, and you’ve already had a whole bunch of them who said ‘this makes sense,'” Obama said following an Oval Office meeting with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski. “I think they’re going to feel confident that, in fact, this is the right course.”
  • Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia called the agreement the “ultimate stimulus plan” that “shows great promise for reinvigorating the economy” by putting more money in the pockets of workers and small- business owners. “The American people, and particularly those who are out of work, cannot afford to wait while politics-as-usual blocks an effective, bipartisan plan to stimulate the economy and restore growth,” he said in a statement. ‘Imperfect Agreement’
  • Lawrence Summers, Obama’s chief economic adviser, told reporters in a briefing that a failure by Congress to adopt what he called an “imperfect agreement” would raise the risk of a double-dip recession. “I don’t think at the end of the day the Congress will take a step that materially increases the risk of this economy stalling,” Summers said.
  • President Barack Obama at December 7, 2010 Press Conference: At his hastily called news conference, Obama bristled at times, casting himself in the role of compromiser-in-chief with the best interests of the economy and public in mind. “I’m not here to play games with the American people or the health of the economy,” Obama said of his day-old deal, which is designed to avert a scheduled Jan. 1 expiration of tax cuts at all income levels. “This isn’t an abstract debate. This is real money, It will make a real difference in the lives of people who sent us here,” Obama said.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, yesterday termed the estate tax provision “a bridge too far.” She also said that in general, “the response has not been very good” among House Democrats to the deal.
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev: The compromise is “something that’s not done yet. We’re going to have to do some more work,” he said after a closed door meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and members of the Democratic rank-and-file.
  • Across the Capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement that said: “Republicans have held the middle class hostage for provisions that benefit only the wealthiest 3%, do not create jobs and add tens of billions of dollars to the deficit…. We will continue discussions with the president and our caucus in the days ahead.”
  • Text Obama’s Remarks on the Tax Compromise: Following is a text of President Obama’s remarks on Monday in which he announced a tentative deal with Congressional Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, as released by the White House:For the past few weeks there’s been a lot of talk around Washington about taxes and there’s been a lot of political positioning between the two parties. But around kitchen tables, Americans are asking just one question: Are we going to allow their taxes to go up on January 1st, or will we meet our responsibilities to resolve our differences and do what’s necessary to speed up the recovery and get people back to work? Now, there’s no doubt that the differences between the parties are real and they are profound. Ever since I started running for this office I’ve said that we should only extend the tax cuts for the middle class. These are the Americans who’ve taken the biggest hit not only from this recession but from nearly a decade of costs that have gone up while their paychecks have not. It would be a grave injustice to let taxes increase for these Americans right now. And it would deal a serious blow to our economic recovery. Now, Republicans have a different view. They believe that we should also make permanent the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. I completely disagree with this. A permanent extension of these tax cuts would cost us $700 billion at a time when we need to start focusing on bringing down our deficit. And economists from all across the political spectrum agree that giving tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires does very little to actually grow our economy. This is where the debate has stood for the last couple of weeks. And what is abundantly clear to everyone in this town is that Republicans will block a permanent tax cut for the middle class unless they also get a permanent tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, regardless of the cost or impact on the deficit. We saw that in two different votes in the Senate that were taken this weekend. And without a willingness to give on both sides, there’s no reason to believe that this stalemate won’t continue well into next year. This would be a chilling prospect for the American people whose taxes are currently scheduled to go up on January 1st because of arrangements that were made back in 2001 and 2003 under the Bush tax cuts. I am not willing to let that happen. I know there’s some people in my own party and in the other party who would rather prolong this battle, even if we can’t reach a compromise. But I’m not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington. And I’m not willing to let our economy slip backwards just as we’re pulling ourselves out of this devastating recession. I’m not willing to see 2 million Americans who stand to lose their unemployment insurance at the end of this month be put in a situation where they might lose their home or their car or suffer some additional economic catastrophe. So, sympathetic as I am to those who prefer a fight over compromise, as much as the political wisdom may dictate fighting over solving problems, it would be the wrong thing to do. The American people didn’t send us here to wage symbolic battles or win symbolic victories. They would much rather have the comfort of knowing that when they open their first paycheck on January of 2011, it won’t be smaller than it was before, all because Washington decided they preferred to have a fight and failed to act…. – NYT, 12-7-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

The President records the Weekly Address
White House Photo, Samantha Appleton, 12/10/10

  • Scott Sandage: Obama “not a naturally tough character”: As angry Democrats beat a path to television cameras Wednesday to denounce a White House tax compromise with Republicans, President Obama was making a show of being presidential…. “He is certainly straining to prove that he is tough,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist. “But there is a real threat to the White House now in that it is officially open season on the administration from the left and the right…. “The key risk in all of this for Obama is that he is not a naturally tough character. Scott Sandage, a professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University, said Obama’s short stint in the Senate didn’t give him a killer instinct for legislative wrangling. “It often seems like when Obama recedes, he is trusting the process to drive itself — and it just doesn’t work that way,” Sandage said…. – Washington Examiner (12-8-10)
  • K.C. Johnson: “No incentive” for politicians to be contrite: In Washington, shame isn’t what it used to be. That was the lesson of the showdown Thursday between Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and the rest of the House of Representatives. Rangel’s colleagues voted overwhelmingly to censure him for ethics violations – a punishment that included a public scolding in the House chamber. But Rangel didn’t cooperate. The rebuke would only work if he felt ashamed. And he didn’t…. “If you show shame, or show an honest contriteness, that’s likely to appear in a campaign commercial against you,” said KC Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College in New York. “The fact is that there’s really no incentive to admit to any wrongdoing in this kind of environment.”… – WaPo (12-4-10)
  • As Obama faces Democratic ire over tax deal, some recall Carter years: Nonetheless, “there are certainly parallels,” said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University historian and the author of “Jimmy Carter,” a book about Carter’s presidency. “There is a real level of discomfort among Democrats that Obama is not giving them policy that is good for the party and he’s putting them in political trouble, something Carter dealt with right off the bat,” Zelizer said Wednesday. “Liberals have a feeling that the administration has simply abandoned the principles that brought them to office.” Similar ire from within his own party helped sound a death knell for Carter, Zelizer said, as the late Ted Kennedy, in particular, worked to undermine him at every turn. Kennedy even mounted a challenge to Carter’s leadership, unsuccessfully running for the Democratic nomination in 1980 — a headache Obama isn’t realistically expected to face, despite anger from congressional Democrats. Both Carter and Obama also dealt with an economic crisis they couldn’t hose down, said Zelizer — in Carter’s case, stagflation and an energy crisis. “Carter faced this underlying stagnant economy that he couldn’t do much about; he couldn’t figure out how to stimulate it. It ate away at his administration and his presidency, and that’s happening to Obama as well.” Zelizer, however, said the White House ignores Carter’s experiences at its own peril. “The problem is if you alienate your supporters, and you alienate congressional Democrats, and you have an opponent that is vowing to attack you no matter what you do, you end up an isolated president, and that’s very dangerous,” he said. “That’s what happened to Carter, and what could happen to Obama.” – Winnipeg Free Press, 12-8-10
  • As Obama faces Democratic ire over tax deal, some recall Carter years: Stephen Hess, a longtime Washington political operative who once advised Carter in addition to several Republican presidents, said he sees few similarities between the two men, either personally or in terms of their political situation. “Of all the presidents I’ve known since Dwight D. Eisenhower, these two are about as far apart as any two I’ve seen,” Hess said. “Carter was an engineer; he was involved in all the joints and connections. Obama is much more of an intellectual, and much more broadly engaged. They look at life from opposite ends of the telescope, one looking at it widely and the other quite narrowly.” Obama has also had many more legislative accomplishments in his two years in the Oval Office than Carter ever did, Hess adds. “His record of achievement is tremendous, much greater than anybody else in a long, long time,” he said. “He got three major pieces of legislation through in his first Congress; nothing like that ever happened for Carter.” As well, Hess added, Obama’s “bring it on” strategy against critics in his own party might actually turn out to be a cunning bit of political gamesmanship, whereas Carter’s fumbles were exactly that. “With the tax deal, Obama landed basically where the American people want to be, he got as much as he could for his position, and he might have created some groundwork for future deals,” Hess said. “Sure, the liberals are mad at him but it’s the independents in the middle that he’s going to need. Appearing to be fighting back against liberal Democrats could be useful to him because it shows independents that he’s a centrist, despite conservatives trying to portray him as something he isn’t — a socialist, a communist.” – Winnipeg Free Press, 12-8-10
  • Krugman: Obama’s Tax Defense ‘Enormously Self-Indulgent’: President Obama used a White House news conference to make the case for a new tax cut compromise and appeal to supporters unhappy with the plan. Jeffrey Brown talks to Paul Krugman and Stephen Moore for reaction to the deal…. – PBS Newshour, 12-7-10
  • Julian Zelizer: Focusing on deficit a lose-lose move for Obama: The political pressure on the administration to tackle deficit reduction is mounting. Even before he began negotiations with Republicans last week, President Obama conceded ground by announcing a federal pay freeze. He has given indications that, like President Jimmy Carter in 1978, he intends to shift his focus from unemployment to deficits in response to the “message” from the midterms. Yet Obama should be extremely cautious before he shifts the focus of his agenda. Emphasizing deficits over unemployment threatens to carry huge political costs for Democrats. The latest unemployment numbers are a stark reminder of the terrible shape of the economy. Regardless of the conventional wisdom, moreover, the move won’t leave him in a stronger political position. At a time when many economists believe that the time is not right to move toward deficit reduction, given that the economy is still fragile and unstable, Obama is heading into a political trap. The major political problem for Obama is that making deficit reduction an immediate priority is unlikely to win over Republican support. The record since 2008 has been that even when Obama gives ground to the GOP on issues like health care and economic policy, Republicans have rarely offered their support in return. Rather, the GOP has demanded more from the president, while continuing to attack the administration as left-of-center…. The moves will not win over Republicans and at the same time threaten to deepen the rift between Obama and congressional Democrats. All of this will happen and the levels of unemployment won’t abate. Like Carter, Obama can find himself in the worst of both worlds, angering his supporters and doing nothing to appease his opponents, thus becoming increasingly isolated as the 2012 elections approach. – CNN, 12-6-10
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