It meant leaving a luncheon of family members earlier and being forced to borrow a pen from colleague E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. Nevertheless, I was glad I made President Obama’s snap news conference at the White House today, where he explained why he decided to go along with congressional Republicans on stopping higher taxes on the nation’s top wage earners (and job creators).
To say the least, it was a remarkable performance–and very revealing. In both his opening statement and answers to the handful of questions my colleague posed, the President almost seemed to be back on the campaign trail where he was before the Republican sweep November 2nd–or already on the trail for 2012. Partisan rhetoric flew like shrapnel, with Mr. Obama saying that extending the “Bush tax cuts” for higher income Americans “seems to be their [Republicans’] central economic doctrine” and “This is their holy grail.” As to why he didn’t heed the pleas of fellow Democrats to fight the Republicans over extending those tax cuts for the next two years, the President said it was “tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers unless the hostage is being harmed”–a reference to his own selective tax cuts that will apparently be preserved if the deal with Speaker-designate John Boehner and House Republicans succeeds.
“I take John Boehner at his word,” Obama added, in about the only nonpartisan words he had during the news conference.
Insisting that Republicans standing firm led him to compromise (“I have not been able to budge them”), Obama made several references to his desire for a vote in Congress, saying “I would have liked to have seen a vote.” He was not questioned, nor did he offer an explanation, as to why he didn’t help the 37 House Democrats who opposed adjournment of Congress in October to get the one more vote they needed to avoid a tie (when Speaker Nancy Pelosi broke in favor of adjournment before a vote on tax cut extension could be taken).
As to those on the left who questioned his core vaules in agreeing with Republicans on this issue and charged that he was “rewarding Republican obstruction,” Mr. Obama insisted “I would have enjoyed a battle with Republicans for the next month or two” on this issue but that in so doing, he became convinced that had he persevered, things he had helped put on the books such as the earned income tax credit and the college tax credit would have been lost.
He closed the news conference by dismissing the “notion that I had compromise too much,” that he had heard this before during the health care debate (“This is the public option debate all over again”), that FDR and other past Presidents had compromised to get key legislation on the books.
“The New York Times editorial page does not permeate across the country,” said Obama, “but neither does the Wall Street Journal‘s.”
Strong medicine all right, and much more suitable to the campaign stump than the podium at the White House. But I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot more of it in the coming session of Congress.