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Obama's Angry, Pragmatic Tax Address

Sounding more impassioned than he has since saying he was looking to “kick ass” during the BP oil spill, President Obama held a press conference at the White House today to talk about his controversial new tax package.

Settled on with Republican leaders late yesterday, the tax plan will extend refundable tax credits (i.e. the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit) and extend unemployment insurance for 13 months. All of Bush’s tax cuts will also be extended, which is the main point of contention for many Democrats, who trusted Obama when he said on the campaign trail that he would end Bush’s tax breaks for the wealthy. The president also agreed to not tax estates worth up to $5 million (in 2009, estates were untaxed up to $3.5 million).

To liberals, Obama’s concessions to the Republicans were outright treasonous, cowardly kowtowing to a GOP that already greatly enfeebled the left on November 2. Today, Obama, his eyes narrowing as he spoke, was having none of the naysaying.

“This has to do with what can we get done right now,” he said. “It’s very stark. We can’t get my preferred option through the Senate right now. As a consequence, if we don’t get my option through the Senate right now, and we do nothing, then on January 1st of 2011, the average family is going to see their taxes go up about $3,000. Number two: At the end of this month, two million people will lose their unemployment insurance.”

The president said that any inaction on his part in order to win political points would have resulted in trauma for average American families. “I’ve got an option of just holding fast to my position and, as a consequence, two million people may not be able to pay their bills and tens of millions of people who are struggling right now are suddenly going to see their paychecks smaller.  Or alternatively, what I can do is I can say that I am going to stick to my position that those folks get relief, that people get help for unemployment insurance.”

My job is to look out for middle class families who are struggling to get by,” he added.

Several times the president seemed to address fellow liberals directly, or at least liberals who would question his commitment to his Democratic ideals. “I know there are some who would have preferred a protracted political fight,” he said, “even if it had meant higher taxes for all Americans, even if it had meant an end to unemployment insurance for those who are desperately looking for work. And I understand the desire for a fight. I’m sympathetic to that. I’m as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I’ve been for years.  In the long run, we simply can’t afford them. And when they expire in two years, I will fight to end them, just as I suspect the Republican Party may fight to end the middle-class tax cuts that I’ve championed and that they’ve opposed.”

Tough talk was always immediately grounded by pragmatism in today’s speech, however. After saying that “a long political fight” might have appeased his base and been “good politics,” Obama said that it would have been bad for the country at large. “My responsibility as President is to do what’s right for the American people,” he said.


At the end of his remarks, Obama said, plainly, “This is a big, diverse country, and not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people. The New York Times editorial page does not permeate across all of America.” The words seemed angry, like those of an unlikely president who is tired of people expecting him to do unlikely things.

-Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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