Swift passage of the embattled deal could clear a path for some of President Barack Obama‘s other embattled priorities for a year-end legislative session, including a landmark nuclear arms control treaty with Russia.
During a brief joint public appearance with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Obama said economists predicted the job-hungry US economy would get more people to work in 2011 and 2012 if the tax agreement were made law.
“It’s very important for Congress to examine the agreement, look at the facts, have a thorough debate, but get this done. The American people are watching, and they’re expecting action on our parts,” he said.
But top Democrats have denounced the compromise, in which Obama bought a two-year extension of tax cuts for the middle class at the price of doing the same for the richest sliver of US earners and a rollback of the US estate tax.
“This was not the best deal,” Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen, normally a reliable White House ally, told MSNBC television. “I’m not sure this bill can pass in this form in the House of Representatives.”
Vice President Joe Biden was due to hunker down behind closed doors with Democratic lawmakers for the second time in two days, visiting House members a day after he courted senators’ support for the plan.
“This deal is a compromise. That means it’s got things we like. That means it’s got things we don’t like,” top Obama economic adviser Larry Summers said in a briefing at the White House. “It’s an imperfect agreement.”
But failure to pass the bill “in the next couple of weeks would materially increase the risk that the economy would stall out and we would have a double dip” recession, he warned.
And top Obama strategist David Axelrod warned Democrats spoiling for a fight with Republicans that they were placing a dangerous bet on their ability to get a better deal to stop a January 1 middle-class tax hike.
“The thing we shouldn’t do is play Russian roulette with people’s lives,” he said, noting that the deal includes a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits. “That’s not good politics and it’s not good policy.”
With time quickly running out in the year-end “lame duck” session, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he could move ahead with the legislation in the “next day or two.”
Republicans, facing resistance to the tax deal among conservatives, have broadly opposed making any changes to the compromise and warned they will block all bills until the tax issue and annual government spending are done.
But the White House faced an uphill battle as liberal Democrats rejected the plan and bristled at the Obama administration’s strong-arm tactics.
“No, I won’t vote for it. I don’t feel that I should be coerced,” Democratic Representative Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told MSNBC television.
But, asked whether the measure would ultimately pass, Frank replied: “I’m afraid that it is, yes.”
Democrats also face battles over a massive spending bill for the fiscal year that began October 1; an effort to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the US military; and the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia.
Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, who usually sides with Democrats, said he had “never been more confident” in getting the 60 votes necessary to overrun any parliamentary delay tactics to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban.
But in a sign of growing tensions among Democrats as the legislative clock ticks down, Lieberman called ending the restrictions a “more urgent necessity” than the START treaty.
Obama, who has made the accord a key part of his effort to “reset” relations with Moscow, said he was “confident” that senators would ratify the accord in 2010.
Copyright © 2010 AFP