Obama on Tax Deal: ‘I Am Ready For a Fight, But Right Now People Would Be Hurt’

December 7, 2010

(ChattahBox Political News)—President Obama just delivered one of the most impassioned and fiery press conferences of his presidency that set the stage for the second half of his first term in office. As lawmakers in Congress geared up for what could be a contentious vote on the proposed bipartisan tax cut deal, Obama made his case to the press and the American public. He said his “number one priority is to do what’s right for the American people” and our weak economy, adding that “This isn’t an abstract debate this is real money for real people.” He pointed out the political realities of not having the votes in the Senate to allow tax cuts for the rich to expire, while taking direct aim at Democratic “sanctimonious” purists who would fight on principle while Americans suffer. And the President made it very clear that the Republican Party was only interested in protecting the interests of the the richest Americans, and the middle class be damned. He called the GOP “hostage takers” who would do harm to ordinary people to get what they wanted. “I think it’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers — unless the hostage gets harmed,” said Obama. And to those in his Party who say he is caving, Obama said he was in this fight for the “long game” and it’s not over. He also challenged the Republicans to bring it on, because he was itching for a fight on other issues.

The President at times showed flashes of anger, when questioned by reporters over liberals’ dissatisfaction with his tax cut compromise. “This is the public option debate all over again,” said Obama.

“It’s a good deal for the American people,” he said of the deal that also includes unemployment benefits, a payroll tax holiday and a package of tax credits for the middle class, all of which will stimulate the economy and spur job growth.

He said he understood the desire for a “protracted” fight politically, but at the end of the day it’s his job to protect middle class Americans. He noted that there was not a chance in hell a single Republican Senator would have voted for a tax hike on the wealthy. “This is their Holy Grail Tax– cuts for the wealthy,” said Obama of the GOP.

To those Democrats who still want to fight this battle, Obama said hurting struggling Americans over a matter of principle is not “what it means to be a Democrat.” “This country was founded on compromise,” he added.

When asked why the Democrats didn’t bring up the tax cut fight before the November elections, Obama said that he wanted a vote at that time, but it didn’t happen.

He went on to say he would not expose the middle class to “collateral damage.”

“Now if there was not collateral damage, if this was just a matter of my politics, or being able to persuade the American people to my side, then I would just stick to my guns,” said Obama. “Because the fact of the matter is, the American people already agree with me. There are polls showing right now that the American people for the most part think it’s a bad idea to provide tax cuts to the wealthy.”

“But the issue is not me persuading the American people — they’re already there. The issue is, how do I persuade the Republicans in the Senate who are currently blocking that position? I have not been able to budge them. And I don’t think there’s any suggestion that anybody in this room thinks realistically that we can budge them right now. And in the meantime, there are a whole bunch of people being hurt, and the economy is being damaged.”

When MSNBC’s Chuck Todd asked Obama to respond to the notion that he was rewarding GOP obstruction, the President responded with his hostage analogy.

“I’ve said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts,” Obama said. “I think it’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers — unless the hostage gets harmed. Then, people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed.”

As a whole, the President staked out his presidential role as a defender of the poor and the middle class that at times, will require unpleasant compromises with the opposition Party. And he made no apologies for his decision.

You may or may not agree with the parameters of the final deal, but Obama looked anything but weak. He made his case decisively and with strength. Yes, the Republicans received their bonuses for the wealthiest Americans that will add billions to the deficit, without stimulating the economy.

But the middle class will also benefit, while the economy will get a boost.

Meanwhile,  the tax cut compromise is not a done deal yet. Lawmakers from both sides are bellyaching, and the votes needed to get the deal passed in the House are not there yet.

And the liberal anger for being called out by President Obama is deafening. At this point the compromise would not pass in either the Senate or the House. So, this deal could still blow up, unless Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) can whip enough votes.

You can watch the entire presser here.


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