Update: The tax-cut bill passed the House late Thursday. Its next stop is the president's desk.
As President Barack Obama's controversial tax-cut proposal was temporarily pulled from a vote in the House on Thursday, the White House trotted out Jason Furman, deputy director of the National Economic Council, and Gene Sperling, counselor to the treasury secretary, to sell a package that has met with considerable opposition on both sides of the aisle.
It was a sales pitch made of necessity: The administration is fending off a perception by many in the liberal base that this package, which will provide a two-year reprieve from tax increases scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, unfairly benefits the wealthy. Especially galling to its opponents are plans to extend President George W. Bush's tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 and to raise the threshold for exemption from the estate tax to $5 million, while lowering the top tax rate to 35 percent.
In a briefing for regional reporters, Sperling said that, on the contrary, the proposed tax plan will be a win for working families. Sure, he acknowledged, a couple of things the president is none too fond of made it into the compromise, but there will be "significant tax relief" for 150 million families. The plan cuts taxes across all income levels, including those for the upper income bracket, which Obama had pledged in the past to allow to expire.
Moreover, Sperling said, with the extension of the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and American Opportunity Tax Credit (which provides a $2,500 yearly refundable tuition tax credit), "the hardest-hit families" will have "money in their pockets." The plan will also reduce Social Security taxes for every wage earner in 2011 and extend jobless benefits for 2 million Americans by 13 months.
"It's as strong a win for jobs and working families as anyone can imagine," Sperling said. "It's better for working families than anyone thought possible."
The bill has met with heated opposition from some Democrats. The Congressional Black Caucus came out with a statement last week opposing the tax plan — although earlier this week, Philadelphia Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) strayed from the CBC line to announce his support of the president's tax plan. Democrats have said that they won't vote for the bill without some amendments; Republicans, meanwhile, have said that any amendments to their "agreement" will make the bill a no-go for them.
But while politicos bicker over the particulars, a Pew Research survey released this week indicates that more than 60 percent of Americans approve of extending the tax cuts.
When asked by The Root if the Obama administration had done a sufficient job selling the package to black Americans, Sperling replied that in a meeting held Tuesday at the White House and orchestrated by White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, African-American leaders — mayors, city council members and professional organizations, gathered under the umbrella of the National Policy Alliance — demonstrated "overwhelming support" for the tax cuts. "Whatever their views were for the unfortunate concessions we had to accept as part of a compromise … they thought it was a very, very strong package."
The White House has taken pains to enumerate the ways in which the tax-cut agreement benefits African Americans, holding a conference call last week to tick off its talking points: Roughly 2.2 million black families will benefit from the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, helping roughly 4.7 million black children. The extension of unemployment benefits is also projected to benefit 1.1 million African Americans — who have been hardest hit by unemployment in this economy.
"I don't think anybody is unaware of how we feel [about the concessions for tax cuts for the wealthy]," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, "or how the Republicans feel." But how will a new Congress arriving on Jan. 5 make any headway, Gibbs continued, "if we're still fighting when the ball drops at the end of the year?
"Keep in mind that the House only a few weeks ago couldn't pass a three-month paid-for unemployment extension," he said. "What this bill does is take all the politics out of … unemployment. If you're [unemployed] in a state like Michigan … you won't find yourself waiting for a bunch of people in Congress to get their act together."
Teresa Wiltz is senior editor of The Root.