In an effort to resurrect a fiscal cliff deal before Christmas, President Obama tried to paint Republicans as unreasonable protectors of the wealthy preoccupied with their own party orthodoxy rather than the well-being of the country.
His comments during a Wednesday midday news conference marked yet another instance of the president ramping up his “outside game” to pressure the House Republicans to compromise. This follows weeks of administration meetings with business leaders and middle-class families to build public support for a budget deal that includes tax increases—and to isolate the House GOP politically.
“The Republicans in the House and Speaker (John) Boehner were in a position to say, ‘We got a fair deal.’ The fact that they haven’t taken it yet is a question you have to address to them,” Obama told reporters.
By taking to the podium and offering expansive comments on the deteriorating state of the fiscal cliff talks, Obama once again sought to use public sentiment as a momentum for a deal. Most Americans agree a deal is necessary. A recent Gallup poll showed that 66 percent of Americans want a compromise by the New Year, while only 24 percent thought politicians should stick to their principles.
Boehner countered just hours later that his party wanted to ensure that tax cuts for more than 99 percent of Americans become permanent in January. “I hope the president will get serious soon about providing and working with us on a balanced approach,” Boehner said during a press conference that lasted less than one minute.
Part of Obama’s strategy is to cast Republicans as unreasonable, unwilling to compromise before the holidays and reluctant to raise taxes on the wealthy. It’s a replica of the strategy that the president used successfully during the payroll tax holiday fight in December 2011, when he characterized Republicans as the party unwilling to give a tax cut to 160 million Americans. The Republicans caved just days before Christmas but not without losing significant ground on the optics and providing the Democrats with a playbook for future tax fights.
At one point in the briefing, the president went as far as to remark that the Republicans’ position of rejecting spending cuts they’ve long sought “defies logic.” Americans have been through “some wrenching times,” he said. Given the Newtown shooting last Friday and the fragile state of economic recovery, Americans are looking for compromise, he added; he cast the fiscal cliff talks as good test for it. “If this past week has done anything, it should give us some perspective,” he said.
The briefing wasn’t all about bashing the GOP. The president also seemed to signal some area for compromise on the question of tax rates by restating the tax thresholds of $500,000; $700,000; and $800,000. The White House’s latest proposal sought to raise taxes on household income above $400,000, whereas the Republicans want to raise taxes on millionaires. The $500,000 to $700,000 threshold on household income may be a sweet spot for the two parties, if and when fiscal cliff talks resume.
The president drew one large red line in the ongoing negotiations: the debt ceiling. He voice rose a bit as he vowed to refuse to negotiate on a debt ceiling extension, as his administration and Congress did in the summer of 2011. “The idea that we lurch every six months or nine months, that we threaten not to pay our bills on stuff we already bought…That’s not how we run a great country,” he said. “We will not do that again.”