Bill Clinton's rebuke to Democrats: tax deal is 'best' Obama can get

Former President Bill Clinton came to the White House Friday to offer support for the GOP-Obama tax deal that has angered liberal Democrats.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Former President Bill Clinton joins President Obama in the White House briefing room in Washington Friday to talk about the GOP-Obama tax deal.

In an impromptu news conference Friday at the White House, former President Clinton strongly endorsed President Obama’s controversial tax-cut deal.

Mr. Clinton told reporters that, after reviewing the agreement the president reached with Republicans earlier this week, he felt it was “the best bipartisan agreement we can reach to help the largest number of Americans” and maximize the chances the economic recovery will accelerate.

Mr. Obama had just met with Clinton privately in the Oval Office, and afterward the two men appeared, with little advance warning, in the White House briefing room. Obama introduced the former president, reiterated his defense of the tax cut agreement, stuck around for a while as Clinton spoke, then ducked out for the latest White House Christmas party.

Obama could not have asked for a more respected, popular emissary to the Democratic base, which has cried foul over several aspects of the agreement.

Liberal Democrats, including many members of Congress, object to the two-year extension of tax cuts for the wealthy and a restoration of the estate tax that exempts most Americans. Obama made those concessions to ensure middle-class Americans also got an extension of tax cuts and that unemployment benefits continued for another 13 months.

Clinton highlighted several aspects of the package:

  • Extension of unemployment benefits: “That money will be spent, and it will bolster the economy through the next couple of years.
  • One-year reduction in payroll taxes: “According to all economic analysis, [this is] the single most effective tax cut you can do to support economic activity. This will actually create a fair number of jobs. I expect it to lower the unemployment rate and keep us going.”
  • Renewable energy investment credits. “This is a really important thing, bringing manufacturing back to America, because it’s a huge multiplier to create new jobs.”

Clinton said he didn’t believe Obama could have held out for a better deal. “In January,” he said, the Republicans “will be in the majority and this would dramatically reduce their incentive” to agree to all the provisions currently in the deal.

Before the meeting, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs had described its purpose as “self-explanatory.” Obama is in much the same boat that Clinton was 16 years ago, when the Democrats lost their congressional majorities. (Obama, at least, can take solace that he didn’t lose the Senate.) Who better to turn to than the man who learned the art of “triangulation,” worked with the Republicans to pass significant legislation, and won reelection easily.

On that score, Clinton declined to discuss what advice he gave Obama.

“I have a general rule, which is that it – whatever he asks me about my advice and whatever I say should become public only if he decides to make it public,” Clinton said. “He can say whatever he wants.”

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