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Progressives Torn Over Obama's Vision For Deficit Reduction

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is back in the good graces of progressives. For now.

Hours after Obama delivered a fiery speech demanding that the wealthiest Americans "pay their fair share" in taxes as part of his $4 trillion deficit-reduction plan, MoveOn.org launched a new television ad on Monday hammering in the president's message and ripping Republicans for caring more about the rich than the middle class.

The 30-second ad, called " Buffett's Secretary" and set to air on national cable television later this week, features people portraying the role of billionaire investor Warren Buffett's secretary and decrying that they pay a higher tax rate than he does.

"Most Americans want Congress to raise taxes on the wealthy, but the GOP refuses to do it. Why?" asks one of Buffett's so-called secretaries.

The ad echoes Obama's insistence earlier Monday that whatever deficit-reduction deal lands on his desk from Congress must include the so-called Buffett Rule: No household making more than $1 million annually should pay a smaller share of its income in taxes than middle-class families pay.

"Any reform should follow another simple principle: Middle-class families shouldn’t pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires," the president said during a Rose Garden speech. "That’s pretty straightforward. It’s hard to argue against that. Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. There is no justification for it."

Daniel Mintz, campaign director at MoveOn.org, which boasts a membership of 5 million liberal supporters, said anyone in Congress who disagrees with that proposal -- Democrats or Republicans -- is standing in the way of economic recovery and will have to answer to voters next year.

"In short, the President wants to tax billionaires to create jobs," Mintz said in a statement. "The Republicans want to end Medicare to protect billionaires."

But while progressives may be basking in Obama's latest return to a populist tone, many are still apprehensive about another piece of his vision for deficit reduction: potential cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits. In his same speech, the president advocated making "structural reforms" to entitlement programs.

Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who co-chair the 76-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, hailed Obama for targeting "giveaways to the wealthy few" in his deficit-reduction plan. But they cautioned that their support hinges on whether he pushes for cuts to entitlements.

"While we support cutting waste, fraud and abuse, we reject any proposal that cuts benefits in Medicare or Medicaid," Grijalva and Ellison said in a statement. "Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid represent a serious threat to our society and are highly unpopular with the American people. Every dime taken away from beneficiaries in these programs is a dime the recipients don’t have to spend in our economy."

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, also warned that progressives will fight the White House on any deal that cuts entitlement benefits.

Obama's deficit plan "will have a lot of support" from progressives, Green said, as long as those core programs are untouched.

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