Facing a firestorm of criticism from his liberal base over the deal the White House struck with congressional Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for wealthy Americans, President Obama held a press conference this afternoon to explain why he thinks the compromise was a good move for the country.
In the conference, the president said he just didn't have the votes to overcome the opposition from Republicans and conservative Democrats; he also said that he couldn't justify engaging the GOP in an extended game of "Chicken" during a time of economic need. Obama stressed that the tax-cut extensions for high earners was temporary and added that "we're gonna keep on having this debate."
"We can't get my preferred option through the Senate right now," Obama said. "As a consequence, if I don't get my option through the Senate right now and we do nothing, then on January 1st of 2011 the average family's gonna see their taxes go up about $3,000. Number two, at the end of this month, 2 million people will lose their unemployment insurance. Now, I have an option, which is to say, 'You know what, I'm gonna keep fighting a political fight which I can't win in the Senate'... or, alternatively what I can do is I can say that I'm gonna stick to my position that those folks get relief, that people get help for unemployment insurance, and I will continue to fight before the American people to make the point that the Republican position is wrong."
Obama noted that if the fight extended into the next session of Congress, his negotiating position would have become even more perilous, since more congressional Republicans will be sworn into office in January. He added that he hopes to win the fight over tax cuts for wealthy Americans in 2012.
As he recounted the White House effort to get the GOP to relinquish its support for those cuts -- something he described as the party's "holy grail" -- the president admitted bluntly, "I have not been able to budge them." Opinion polls show overwhelming popular support for ending the tax breaks for higher earners. He later added, "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."
Near the end of his presser, an agitated Obama took a poke at liberal critics angry over his compromise with one final zinger: "This is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people. The New York Times editorial page does not permeate across all of America."
(Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)