POLITICS
12/08/2010 10:43 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

White House Privately Pushing Data Showing Bush Tax Cut Extension Politically Popular

WASHINGTON -- Hoping to build support for the tax-cut deal that the president reached with Congressional Republicans, the White House has begun pressing Hill Democrats with polling data showing that extending the tax rates for the rich is politically popular.

A Senate aide sent over a copy of the email that an administration aide sent to offices on Wednesday morning. In it, the aide touts Gallup polling data showing that "Two-thirds of Americans (66%) favor extending the 2001/2003 tax cuts for all Americans for two years, and an identical number support extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed."

That an administration would promote polling data backing its policy preferences is normally not an astounding revelation. But the private push of the Gallup study struck the Senate aide as depressing if not counter-productive. Even as the president was insisting that he thought an extension of rates for the wealthy is poor economics -- "I'm as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I've been for years," Obama said on Tuesday -- his aides were privately embracing the idea that extending the Bush tax cuts across the board was politically prudent.

"We are making the argument for them," said the Senate aide, who sent over the email on condition that it could not be reprinted. "The White House now wants us to defend extending the Bush tax cuts."

The White House wasn't the only party apparatus trying to disseminate the Gallup poll findings. On Wednesday morning, Don Stewart, the spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), also sent around the findings, pointing out that a "slight majority of Democrats, as well as most independents and Republicans, would vote for a two-year extension of the tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003."

If the fraying of relations between the White House and congressional Democrats wasn't apparent enough, an "administration official" was quoted in Politico late Tuesday evening relaying that Obama was so dispirited with his party's leadership that he felt compelled to place his faith in direct talks with McConnell instead.

An administration ally, responding to complaints that Congressional Democrats were making about the contours of the tax-cut deal, went even further, suggesting his own party was assuming the role of hostage-takers -- the moniker Obama applied to Republicans during his Tuesday press conference.

"[A]re congressional Democrats going to hold emergency unemployment aid, new tax cuts for the middle class and the working poor, as well as the existing expiring middle class tax cuts that would affect hundreds of millions hostage because they want to take away tax cuts from a small group of rich people?" the ally emailed The Huffington Post. "Progressives need to stop, see through their frustration at process issues, and think about what they are fighting for and against here."

On Wednesday, Vice President Joseph Biden is set to return to the Hill to attempt to defuse tensions with Congressional Democrats.

For what it's worth, the polling numbers themselves are not as clear as the White House or McConnell's office would like others to believe. While Gallup clearly showed that passing the president's tax-cut deal wouldn't cause a public backlash, it didn't measure the popularity of different proposals.

When you present respondents with other prospective resolutions of the tax-cut debate (which may now be moot because a deal is close to being finalized), extending the rates for the wealthy remains widely unpopular. A Bloomberg News poll also released on Wednesday morning, for instance, showed the following:

The survey, conducted before, during and after the tax negotiations, shows that only a third (35%) support keeping the lower rates for the highest earners, and less than half of those respondents (16%) say the breaks for the wealthy should last for a shorter period than cuts for the middle class. Overall, two-thirds (69%) of those polled favor a permanent extension of the lower rates for the middle class.