WASHINGTON — Bill Clinton implored Democrats to back the tax-cut deal that President Barack Obama negotiated with Republicans as the former president made a surprise appearance with Obama in the White House briefing room Friday – and later took over the podium.
"I don't believe there is a better deal out there," Clinton told reporters who'd been summoned at a moment's notice to see the former chief executive back the current one. Clinton and Obama had just finished a private meeting in the Oval Office.
Obama said it was a "terrific meeting" and then yielded to Clinton. The voluble former president took it away, and Obama left part-way through his remarks, saying he had holiday parties to attend. Clinton not only provided an economic tutorial but riffed on several topics, including the need for the Senate to ratify a U.S.-Russia nuclear treaty.
"Both sides are going to have to eat some things they don't like," Clinton told reporters about the tax deal. "We don't want to slip back into a recession. We've got to keep this thing going and accelerate its pace. I think this is the best available option."
The pact would extend cuts in income tax rates for all earners that would otherwise expire next month, renew long-term jobless benefits and trim Social Security taxes for one year. A number of liberal Democrats say it gives away too much to Republicans, and a provision that's particularly irksome to Democrats cuts estate taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
Nonetheless the measure appears headed for Senate approval after negotiators added a few relatively modest sweeteners to promote ethanol and other forms of alternative energy. It's unclear whether House Democrats, who are most opposed, will be able to demand changes that go much further.
Clinton gave the package his full-throated endorsement, even while noting that he opposes the extension of upper-income tax cuts – though he himself will benefit from it.
"I personally believe this is a good deal and the best he could have gotten under the circumstances," Clinton said, urging fellow Democrats to support it.
"If I was in office now, I would have done what the president has done," he said.
Clinton, whose focus on the economy helped get him elected in 1992, said he spends about an hour a day studying up on it and trying to figure out what to do about it. He said the proposal to trim Social Security taxes is the "single most effective tax cut" to support economic activity and create jobs. "I expect it to lower the unemployment rate and keep us going," he said.
"In my opinion, this is a good bill and I hope that my fellow Democrats will support it," Clinton said. "I think this is a much, much better agreement than would be reached were we to wait until January."