Obama Hits Back at His Liberal Critics

CBS

Barack Obama, tax cuts
CBS

Updated at 5 p.m. ET

President Obama today defiantly defended his compromise plan to extend the Bush tax cuts, insisting in a news conference, "This isn't the politics of the moment, this has to do with what can we get done right now."

He lashed out at his critics on the left, who have accused the president of abandoning his Democratic principles by cutting a deal with Republicans.

"This notion that somehow we are willing to compromise too much -- this is the public option debate all over again," the president said. "We pass something that Democrats have been fighting for for over 100 years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn't get...somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise."

He continued, "If that's the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let's face it, we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people."

Yesterday, Mr. Obama unveiled a tentative deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts -- set to expire at the end of the month -- for two years. The plan would extend all of the tax cuts, even though Mr. Obama promised on the campaign trail to let them expire for the wealthiest Americans in the name of fiscal responsibility. The deal also includes a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut, among other things.

Watch the Full Press Conference
Obama: Tax Cuts For Wealthy GOP "Holy Grail"
Obama "Itching For A Fight" On Issues

Mr. Obama yesterday said it was time to end the "stalemate" over the Bush tax cuts, but the plan has been met with acrimony from both the left and the right.

The president said today that he was fulfilling the "promise I made during the campaign, the promise I made as president" -- to ensure that the tax cuts would be extended for the middle class. He acknowledged that he often complained this year that Republicans were holding the middle class "hostage" by resisting an extension of middle class tax cuts without an extension for wealthy Americans as well.

"I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers -- unless the hostage gets harmed," Mr. Obama said. "Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case the hostage was the American people."

Watch President Obama remark that Republicans are "hostage takers" in the video at left.

Without the 60 Senate votes needed to bypass a Republican filibuster, passing a tax cut extension for just the middle class is not possible, the president said. After trying to compel some Republicans in the Senate to support his preferred plan, Mr. Obama said he has "not been able to budge them."

"On the Republican side, this is their holy grail -- tax cuts for the wealthy," he said. "Republicans feel this is the single most important thing they have to fight for as a party."

In fact, as Mr. Obama's critics on the left have pointed out, Republican leaders earlier in the year indicated they could support the Democratic plan if given no other choice. "If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I'll vote for it," House Republican Leader John Boehner said in September on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Yet Mr. Obama said that fighting Republicans on the issue would have led to a protracted battle, which would have allowed the tax cuts expire at the end of the month -- creating an average tax increase of $3,000 per family. He insisted this was more than an "abstract debate."

"My responsibility as president is to do what's right for the American people," he said. "There are people... just barely making it on the paycheck they've got, and when that paycheck gets smaller on Jan. 1, they're going to have to scramble to pay the bills."

Clearly exasperated with liberal lawmakers and pundits who have expressed outrage over the compromise, Mr. Obama said, "This is a big country. Not everybody agrees with us -- I know that shocks people. The New York Times editorial page does not permeate all across America... It means that in order to get stuff done, we're going to compromise."

Watch CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer discuss the opposition to President Obama's plan with the National Journal's Marc Ambinder and Politico's Jonathan Allen on "Washington Unplugged," in the video at left.

The plan costs a hefty $900 billion over two years -- and none of it is paid for, creating a stark contrast to the calls for deficit reduction from both the president and members of Congress have made this year. Some contend passing tax cuts will politically benefit the president and his party, though others argue working with Republicans will backfire for the president.

The president has some significant work to do to convince his Democratic colleagues in Congress that the plan is worth supporting. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he was not confident the Senate would sign off on the deal as it stands, CBS News Capitol Hill Producer John Nolen reports.

"I think we're going to have to do some more work on it," he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today that the House response to the plan "has not been very good," CBS News Senior Political Producer Jill Jackson reports.

When asked whether she would bring the framework to the floor if the Senate passes it, Pelosi said she doesn't even know what the floor schedule is. "We didn't realize that an agreement was going to be announced," she said.

If this deal is passed, Mr. Obama will have to fight the same battle in 2012 when the tax cuts would once again be set to expire.

"When they expire in two years, I will fight to end them," he said. "We're going to keep on having this debate."

Watch CBSNews.com Editor-in-Chief Dan Farber and political reporter Brian Montopoli discuss the effects of the tax cut compromise:

Obama Calls for Tax Code Overhaul
House Dem Peter Welch: Obama's Tax Cut Plan Will Backfire
What Deficit? Tax Deal Comes With Major Costs
Tax Cut Deal Reveals Obama 2.0
Who Stands in the Way of Obama's Tax Cut Deal?
For Obama, Championing Compromise May Be Lonely
Obama: Deal with GOP on Tax Cuts
Tax Cuts For All Americans?
GOP Win on Taxes Leaves Some Dems Fuming
Obama Faces Liberal Revolt over Tax Cut Deal



Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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