The campaign is over, but when President Obama stepped on stage Monday to make a statement on fiscal cliff negotiations, it felt more like a pep rally than a sober policy update on an issue of global import.
The White House had packed the room, the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, with some 200 “middle-class taxpayers” – and rather rambunctious ones, at that. A handful stood behind Mr. Obama, the rest filled the auditorium’s seats.
It was a veritable security blanket of middle-class taxpayers, there as a visual show of force for the president as he seeks to reach a deal with the Republicans to avert the tax hikes and deep spending cuts that automatically go into effect at midnight Monday. One said she was invited after she had “answered some questions” on the White House’s My2K web page – named for the $2,000 that each middle-class household would save by not having its taxes go up.
Clearly, this event had been days in the making, and it was reminiscent of other middle-class focused events and travels Obama has had since he won reelection Nov. 6.
“Thank you for having us!” one attendee shouted after Obama welcomed the group.
The middle-class taxpayers cheered and stood when the president took the stage, called out to him as he spoke, and gave him another standing ovation when he finished. The event was mildly newsworthy: The president announced that a deal was “within sight, but it’s not done.”
“So as of this point, it looks like I'm going to be spending New Year's here in DC,” he said. “You all are going to be hanging out in DC, too.”
At that point, someone in the crowd invited the president over for New Year’s Eve.
“I can come to your house? Is that what you said?” Obama said. “I don't want to spoil the party.”
“You are the party!” the attendee shouted back, to laughter from the crowd.
Obama then sought to turn the event back to its central purpose: to focus on the middle class and how a return to Clinton-era tax rates for all but the wealthiest 2 percent would be painful.
“The people who are with me here today, the people who are watching at home, they need our leaders in Congress to succeed,” Obama said.
Later in the afternoon, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor and echoed Obama’s statement: “We are very, very close,” he said. But soon after, the news broke that the House would not vote on New Year’s Eve, meaning the United States will go over the edge of the cliff, at least temporarily. The hope, as of this writing, was that House and Senate leaders could gather enough votes to pass a deal early in 2013, and have it go into effect retroactively to Jan. 1.
And what about those middle-class taxpayers? Perhaps Obama is keeping them near at hand, just in case.