Obama strives to mollify Dems on tax-cut deal

Budget Director Jacob Lew talks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010 after attending the Senate Democratic caucus to discuss President Obama's tax-cut deal with the Republicans. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)Budget Director Jacob Lew talks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010 after attending the Senate Democratic caucus to discuss President Obama’s tax-cut deal with the Republicans. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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President Obama finds himself in a quest for Democratic votes on Capitol Hill as mounting liberal anger over his tax-cut deal with Republicans has him pressuring lawmakers from the outside with high-profile endorsements and deploying White House officials to cajole them from the inside.

The dilemma over the Bush-era tax cuts means Mr. Obama will not be able to rely on support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both of whom have joined rank-and-file Democrats in expressing concern about the compromise the president struck earlier this week with the GOP.

The full-court press has involved a surprise Tuesday press conference by Mr. Obama, personal pleas to both Senate and House Democratic caucuses by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other officials, stepped-up television appearances by top aides and an onslaught of press releases from the Democratic National Committee touting prominent backers and local editorials in support of the measure.

The basic sell: While the temporary extension of tax cuts for wealthy Americans is a bitter pill to swallow, it’s worth it to ensure that middle-class Americans see their tax cuts extended, along with a series of tax breaks favored by Mr. Obama and unemployment-compensation benefits.

“It’s an imperfect agreement,” National Economic Council Director Lawrence H. Summers told reporters at a briefing Wednesday. But, he said, failure to approve it “would materially increase the risk the economy would stall out, and we would have a double-dip” recession.

Mr. Summers argued that taken together, extensions of middle-class tax breaks and jobless benefits and a payroll-tax holiday will boost gross domestic product and prompt financial firms to make upward adjustments to their economic forecasts.

The deal has sparked a serious backlash among liberal activists and lawmakers, and it faces an uncertain fate on Capitol Hill. Republicans seem generally inclined to support it, having won concessions on the high-end tax cuts as well as on the estate tax, but numerous Democrats stand opposed.

To assuage their concerns, Mr. Biden, a 36-year veteran of the Senate, met with Democrats in both chambers this week. Not everyone was won over.

“I think the vice president is hearing what he expected to hear that there is a substantial amount of dissatisfaction with the deal that was cut,” Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said after Mr. Biden’s meeting with House Democrats on Wednesday.

Several members of the caucus said that of the dozen or so lawmakers who first spoke after the vice president’s half-hour pitch, none expressed support for the deal.

“A lot of members have put themselves on notice they’re voting against it,” Mr. Moran said.

The mood was at least partially similar over in the Senate, where Mr. Biden sought to woo his former colleagues on Tuesday.

“I am inclined to vote no, from what I saw yesterday, but things are in flux, things are moving, so let’s take a look and see what the final package is,” Sen. Tom Harkin said Wednesday. The Iowa Democrat added that he feels as though he and his colleagues have been left in the dark as the White House negotiated with the GOP.

“I have not yet seen what the administration has agreed to with the Republicans,” he said. “Republicans seem to know. The administration seems to know. But we don’t seem to know.”

Congressional Democrats are demanding changes to the package, including the provision to return the estate tax to 2009 levels at 35 percent with a $5 million exemption and borrowing money to pay for a 2 percentage point rollback in the Social Security payroll tax.

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About the Author
Kara Rowland

Kara Rowland

Kara Rowland, White House reporter for The Washington Times, is a D.C.-area native. She graduated from the University of Virginia, where she studied American government and spent nearly all her waking hours working as managing editor of the Cavalier Daily, UVa.’s student newspaper.

Her interest in political reporting was piqued by an internship at Roll Call the summer before her ...

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