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Republican House Speaker John Boehner might be insisting on holding middle-class tax cuts hostage, but that doesn't mean President Obama is about to accept Boehner's ransom demand: an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Instead, the president is preparing to ramp up the political pressure on House Republicans to extend middle-class tax cuts free and clear, including holding an event today at the White House in which he asked Americans to put pressure on Congress to pass middle-class tax cuts immediately as part of the effort to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.
President Obama started by outlining the issue:
Right now, as we speak, Congress can pass a law that would prevent a tax hike on the first $250,000 of everybody’s income. Everybody's. [...] The Senate has already passed a bill that keeps income taxes from going up on middle-class families. Democrats in the House are ready to vote for that same bill today. And if we can get a few House Republicans to agree as well, I’ll sign this bill as soon as Congress sends it my way.
The point President Obama was making here is that he doesn't see the tax cut debate as a negotiation with the Republican Party. Instead, he sees a world in which he just won an election, Democrats expanded their Senate majority, and have a House with 192 members. Assuming we hold most of those Democrats, we'd only need between two and three dozen Republican defections. In other words, he's not interested in haggling with John Boehner—he's merely trying to peel off about 15 percent of the GOP caucus to support middle-class tax cuts.
And instead of trying to get those votes through back room dealmaking, President Obama's taking his case directly to the American public—and he's asking them to make their case to Congress:
The American people are watching what we do -- middle-class families, folks who are working hard to get into the middle class -- they're watching what we do right now. And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, when the American people speak loudly enough, lo and behold, Congress listens. [...] So in the interest of making sure that everybody makes their voices heard, last week we asked people to tell us what would a $2,000 tax hike mean to them [...] Today, I’m asking Congress to listen to the people who sent us here to serve. I’m asking Americans all across the country to make your voice heard. Tell members of Congress what a $2,000 tax hike would mean to you. Call your members of Congress, write them an email, post it on their Facebook walls. You can tweet it using the hashtag “My2K.” Not "Y2K." (Laughter.) "My2K." We figured that would make it a little easier to remember.
The Twitter thing (#My2k) is cute and catchy, but the key point here is that Obama isn't treating this as a deal to be made between John Boehner and himself—he's treating this an issue that all Americans have a stake in. That's why he held today's event and that's why he's going to Philadelphia on Friday to press his case.
Instead of resigning himself to the notion that Washington elites have all the power, Obama is trying to demonstrate that democracy works—that people really do have the power to change Washington. If he succeeds—if Americans finally force Republicans to stop governing by ransom-letter—our country will be much stronger for it, and not just because the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy will finally be a thing of the past.
Originally posted to The Jed Report on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 12:10 PM PST.