WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday staunchly defended his decision to compromise with Republicans and temporarily extend tax cuts for all Americans.
"There are some who would have preferred a protracted political fight," the president said at a White House news conference a day after the deal was announced. "And I understand the desire for a fight. I'm sympathetic to that."
Many Democrats in Congress are unhappy about the agreement, but Obama said a long political battle "would be a bad deal for the economy, and it would be a bad deal for the American people."
Obama promised a fight during 2012, when the tax cuts would expire again, to make the point that he opposes the Republican position that high-income earners should get the extension, too.
He called "tax cuts for the wealthy" the Republicans' "holy grail."
"It seems to be their economic doctrine," Obama added, previewing a likely argument during his expected re-election race in 2012 when tax cuts are likely to be a major issue.
With the compromise agreement with Republicans — opposed by many Democrats in Congress — the president gave up a key goal to let Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans expire. He said the deal would stop taxes from rising for middle class Americans, "which is what I promised."
"It's a good deal for the American people," Obama said.
Obama cast his decision to accede to the GOP position on extending the tax cuts in stark terms.
"It's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers — unless the hostage gets hung," Obama said. "Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed."
He made a point to note that he long has opposed — and still opposes — keeping tax cuts in place for Americans making $200,000 or more a year.
He said the American people agree with his position, but "I haven't persuaded the Republican Party." Reflecting the newly increased Republican clout in Congress, he said, "I haven't persuaded [Senate Republican leader] Mitch McConnell, and I haven't persuaded [House GOP leader] John Boehner."
Even though Democrats will control both houses of Congress until January, Obama insisted the deal was necessary to ensure enough Republican support in Congress to extend unemployment benefits that also are about to expire, saying a long, bloody battle with the GOP would be detrimental to recession-weary Americans.
"This isn't an abstract debate. This is real money for real people," he said. "This package will help strengthen the recovery. That I'm confident about."