Obama Open to "Discussion" of Bush Tax Cuts

Obama Open to "Discussion" of Bush Tax Cuts

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At his eighth White House news conference on Friday, President Obama kept up his pre-election attacks on Republicans over economic policy, but he stopped short of flatly rejecting a temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

“Well, there’s certainly going to be room for discussion,’’ the president answered, when asked whether he was open to the idea.

It was a startling remark, coming as it did in the middle of campaign-mode attacks on Republicans for supporting “millionaires and billionaires” over the middle class.

But it reflected the competing pressures that Obama faces.  To galvanize  the Democratic base and perhaps woo back some independents, he devoted much of his news conference to drawing sharp lines between Democratic and Republican priorities.

At the same time, he implicitly acknowledged the political realities in Congress: a growing number of Democrats are nervous about any immediate tax increases, particularly before the elections, and Senate Republicans can probably block them anyhow.

Obama played it both ways.  On the one hand, he left room for a temporary cease-fire.  On the other, he lashed out at Republicans for “holding middle-class tax relief hostage’’ and for recycling old ideas that he said had fostered the economic crisis.

There was a little something for everyone.

For mainstream Democrats:

“Ninety-seven percent of Americans make less than $250,000 a year -- $250,000 a year or less. And I'm saying, we can give those families, 97 percent, permanent tax relief….And what I've got is the Republicans holding middle-class tax relief hostage because they're insisting we've got to give tax relief to millionaires and billionaires to the tune of about $100,000 per millionaire, which would cost, over the course of 10 years, $700 billion -- and that economists say is probably the worst way to stimulate the economy.”

For pragmatists: two separate moments of praise for one of the few Senate Republicans, George Voinovich of Ohio, who has thrown his support behind the president’s stalled bill to provide tax breaks and additional lending to small business.

For liberals: warm praise for Elizabeth Warren, an outspoken consumer advocate, as a leading candidate to head the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Regulation.   Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School who first proposed the idea of a consumer financial protection agency, has passionate support from a wide range of consumer and labor groups.  But she is deeply opposed by many in the financial industry.

In what seemed like a teasing hint for her supporters to stay tuned, Obama said that Warren was “ a dear friend of mine,” that he had talked with her about the job and that he hoped to make an announcement soon.

“What I think is fair to say is, is that I have had conversations with Elizabeth over the course of these -- over these last couple of months, but I'm not going to make an official announcement until -- until it's ready.”

The news conference on Friday was the latest in a series of efforts by Obama to regain his balance at a time of deep unhappiness among voters about high-employment and a sharp slowdown in what was already a tepid economic recovery.

Obama proposed a package of business tax cuts and infrastructure earlier this week to jump-start growth, but they generated little enthusiasm and White House officials refused to use the word “stimulus’’ in describing the package.

Asked on Friday whether the refusal to say “stimulus’’ reflected the unpopularity of his $814 billion package, Obama gamely  said that everything he had been trying to do since taking office was aimed at “stimulating’’ economic growth and jobs.

“Isn’t that what I should be doing?” he asked.

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