In his first press conference since late May, President Obama offered one of the sternest rebukes to date of the Republican Party's position on the Bush tax cuts, saying that those pushing to extend the cuts for the wealthy are holding the "middle class hostage."
In the process, Obama may have tipped his hand as to how the Democratic Party will structure the forthcoming legislative debate. His position, he said, is to work first on an extension of the tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 a year. After that, Obama added, Republicans and Democrats can debate or vote on whether to continue extending the tax cuts for the wealthy.
"My position is, lets get done what we all agree on," said the president. "What they've said is, 'We all agree that the middle-class tax cuts should be made permanent. Let's work on that, let's do it.' We can have a further conversation about how they want to spend an additional $700 billion dollars to give an average of $100,000 to millionaires. That, I think, is a bad idea. If you were going to spend that money there are a lot of better ways of spending it. But more to the point, these are the same folks who say they are concerned about the deficit -- why would we borrow money on policies that won't help the economy and help people who don't need help."
This seems like one of the clearest indications yet as to how the administration is looking to structure the debate ahead. With a number of moderate Senate Democrats urging the president to extend the full package of Bush tax cuts, there has been growing uncertainty as to whether the president has the votes for extending rates just for those making under $250,000. The compromise proposal most often discussed is to have a temporary extension of all tax cuts, after which Congress can re-consider expiration.
But the White House appears to be homing in on a procedural, not a policy, compromise -- pledge to have two votes: the first on extending the cuts for those making less than $250,000 followed by a second vote on extending the cuts for the wealthy. The former is, as polls show, deeply popular and could get the support of those moderate Democrats provided that a second vote takes place. The latter, owing to opposition among the majority of Democrats in the Senate, may not have the votes for passage.
"I have said that middle-class families need tax relief right now and I'm prepared to work on a bill and sign a bill this month that would ensure that middle class families get tax relief," Obama said at Friday's press conference. "Ninety-seven percent of Americans make less than $250,000 a year... and I'm saying we can give those families, 97 percent, permanent tax relief. And by the way, for those who make more than $250,000, they would still get tax relief on the first $250,000. They just wouldn't get it for income above that. Now that seems like a common sense thing to do. And what I've got is the Republicans holding middle-class tax relief hostage because they are insisting we have got to give tax relief to millionaires and billionaires to the tune of about $100,000 per millionaire, which would cost over the course of ten years $700 billion and the economists say is probably the worst way to stimulate the economy. That doesn't make sense and that is an example of what this election is all about. If you want the same kind of skewed policies that led us into this crisis, then the Republicans are willing to offer that."