President Barack Obama on Tuesday said his willingness to extend tax cuts for the rich in exchange for a broader deal with Republicans was an unfortunate product of harsh political realities, but insisted his position hasn’t changed and promised he’ll seek to end them in two years.
"I'm as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I’ve been for years," Obama said at a White House press conference. "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 Republicans will fight to end the middle class tax cuts."
"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," he added.
The deal brokered between the White House and Congressional Republicans involves a temporary two-year extension of tax cuts for all income-earners, a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits, and a reduction in the payroll tax.
"We can't get my preferred option through the Senate right now," he said, warning that inaction would mean the average family pays an additional $3,000 in taxes and 2 million lose unemployment insurance.
As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama promised to end the Bush tax cuts for the top earners, arguing that it’s necessary to cut the federal deficit and has a minimal stimulative effect on the economy.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday morning the deal is essentially finalized and is acceptable to the GOP. "I think the vast majority of my members will be supporting it," he said.
The move has infuriated progressives, who characterize it as yet another example of the president backing down on a core liberal priority. So fiery was their passion that activists crashed two White House phone lines expressing their dissent, according to Roll Call.
But, Obama countered, "this has to do with what can we get done right now." He starkly dismissed liberal critics who argue Democrats should have scuttled the deal out of principle, portraying it as a battle between purity and results. Some liberals, however, doubt that Democrats will put up a stronger fight in two years.
One Senate Democratic leadership aide suggested the move was also part of an effort by Obama to court independent voters after a tough election last month. "Liberals are not the ones he needs to win right now," the aide told Raw Story.
The expiration of the likely-to-be-extended tax cuts in another two years ensures another heated battle between Obama and his GOP opponent – as well as Democrats and Republicans broadly – in 2012.
This video is from CNN's Newsroom, broadcast Dec. 7, 2010.
--Video by David Edwards