View From the Left: Obama ‘Kept Giving Stuff Away’
Source Dave Anderson
Date 13/01/01/21:42
View From the Left: Obama ‘Kept Giving Stuff Away’

WASHINGTON — For President Obama, the fiscal deal pending in the House
would finally end four years of debate with Republicans about raising
tax rates on the wealthy. But it seemed to reopen a debate within his
party about the nature of his leadership and his skills as a

While Mr. Obama got most of what he sought in the agreement, he found
himself under withering criticism from some in his liberal base who
accused him of caving in to Republicans by not taxing the rich more.
Just as Speaker John A. Boehner has been under pressure from his
right, Mr. Obama faces a virtual Tea Party of the left that sees his
compromise as capitulation.

The main difference is that in the Obama era, the Democratic
establishment has been less influenced, or intimidated, by the left
than the Republican establishment has been by the right. Liberals have
not mounted sustained primary challenges to take out wayward
incumbents the way conservatives have. And so, despite the misgivings,
all but three Democratic senators voted for the compromise on Tuesday,
even as House Republicans balked, giving Mr. Obama more room to
operate than Mr. Boehner.

But the wave of grievance from liberal activists, labor leaders and
economists suggested that the uneasy truce between Mr. Obama and his
base that held through the campaign season had expired now that there
was no longer a threat of a Mitt Romney victory. It also offered a
harbinger of the president’s next four years.

The criticism has irritated the White House, which argued that Mr.
Obama held true to principle by forcing Republicans to raise income
tax rates on the wealthy and extend unemployment benefits and targeted
tax credits. Mr. Obama also quashed Republican demands to trim the
growth of entitlement benefits. Aides dismissed armchair criticism
from those who have never had to negotiate with intractable

“There’s some frustration that over time you would think everybody
would have a better understanding of the parameters of this,” said
Robert Gibbs, a longtime adviser to Mr. Obama who once called such
critics “the professional left.” “But he understands now probably
better than at any other point in his presidency what it means to be a
leader, what it means to have to do things that are good not just for
one party but good for the country.”

The criticism from the left mirrors past complaints when Mr. Obama
included tax cuts in his stimulus package, gave up on a government-run
option in health care negotiations and temporarily extended Bush-era
tax cuts for the wealthy two years ago. Liberals said Mr. Obama should
have capitalized on his re-election victory and the expiration on New
Year’s Day of all of the Bush tax cuts to force Republicans to accept
his terms.

“The president remains clueless about how to use leverage in a
negotiation,” said Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change
Campaign Committee, a liberal advocacy organization. “Republicans
publicly admitted they lost the tax debate and would be forced to
cave, yet the president just kept giving stuff away.”

Robert B. Reich, the former labor secretary, said that Mr. Obama “has
stiffened his tactical resolve” but that “he’s still the same
President Obama who wants a deal above all else and seems willing to
compromise on even the most basic principle.”

Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said in a
Twitter message on Monday that the agreement was “not a good fiscal
cliff deal if it gives more tax cuts to 2 percent.” Senator Tom
Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, said on the floor on Monday that “this looks
like a very bad deal.”

Still, most Democratic lawmakers accepted it, however reluctantly,
concluding that voting against it could cause greater economic
disruption. Many liberals grew more comfortable once they learned more
about the deal, and the revolt on Tuesday by House Republicans seemed
to rally them behind the plan and against a common adversary. Mr.
Trumka released a new statement hailing elements of the deal, while
blaming “Republican hostage taking” for its flaws.

Mr. Obama succeeded in forcing Senate Republicans to raise the top
income tax rate to 39.6 percent from 35 percent despite their adamant
opposition, although he agreed to apply that to household income above
$450,000, instead of $250,000. He also won an increase in taxes on
wealthy estates to 40 percent from 35 percent, though it was not as
high as liberals wanted.

The bill would extend unemployment benefits for two million Americans;
renew tax credits for child care, college tuition and renewable energy
production; raise capital gains taxes; and phase out deductions for
the wealthy. Mr. Obama also insisted that a two-month postponement of
automatic spending cuts be financed by $1 in tax revenue for every $1
in spending reductions.

“When the dust settles, there will be a lot of important elements in
this for progressives,” Mr. Gibbs said. The deal can be evaluated only
in combination with the result of the next fiscal talks, to be
concluded by the end of February, he said, adding, “We won’t know the
final score on that until you look at both of those negotiations

Defenders of the White House said that it was ludicrous to expect that
the president would not have to compromise, given that Republicans
control the House and have enough votes in the Senate to filibuster a
bill. Without an agreement, economists have warned that the country
would be pushed back into recession.

Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, said Mr.
Obama had secured important victories like the one on unemployment
benefits and stood firm against paring entitlement benefits. “The
president was strong there,” he told CNN. “And I think he’ll continue
to be strong. I think, you know, I notice a different president since
he won this election.”

Jared Bernstein, a former economics adviser to Vice President Joseph
R. Biden Jr., said Mr. Obama had done what he thought he had to, but
he expressed concern that the president might have squandered leverage
unless he holds firm in the debate over the debt ceiling. Republicans
want to use a vote to raise the ceiling to force Mr. Obama to accept
deeper spending cuts, but the president has vowed not to negotiate
over the borrowing limit.

“While some appear to think his team folded in the cliff debate, I
don’t see it that way,” Mr. Bernstein said. “They saw a plausible path
forward, and they took it. My point is it’s only plausible if they
really don’t get derailed on the debt ceiling debate.”

[View the list]

InternetBoard v1.0
Copyright (c) 1998, Joongpil Cho