WASHINGTON - (AP) - With Democrats balking at his compromise withRepublicans, President Barack Obama on Tuesday staunchly defendedhis decision to deal with the GOP in order to extendabout-to-expire tax cuts for all Americans.
"There are some who would have preferred a protracted politicalfight," the president said at a White House news conference a dayafter the deal was announced. "And I understand the desire for afight. I'm sympathetic to that."
Many Democrats in Congress are unhappy about the agreementbecause it continues tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. ButObama said a long political battle "would be a bad deal for theeconomy. And it would be a bad deal for the American people."
He promised a renewed fight during 2012 when the tax cuts wouldexpire again, making the point that he still opposes the Republicanposition that high-income earners should get the extension, too.
Obama called "tax cuts for the wealthy" the Republicans'"holy grail."
"It seems to be their economic doctrine," Obama added,previewing a likely argument during his expected re-election racein 2012.
In the agreement, the president gave up a key goal to letBush-era tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans expire. But hesaid the deal would stop taxes from rising for middle classAmericans, "which is what I promised."
"It's a good deal for the American people," Obama said.
Obama cast his decision to accede to the GOP position onextending the tax cuts in stark terms.
"It's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers - unlessthe hostage gets harmed. Then, people will question the wisdom ofthat strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people,and I was not willing to see them get harmed."
He made a point to note that he long has opposed - and stillopposes - keeping tax cuts in place for the sliver of Americansmaking $200,000 or more a year.
He said the American people agree with his position, but "Ihaven't persuaded the Republican Party." Reflecting the newlyincreased Republican clout in Congress, he said: "I haven'tpersuaded (Senate Republican leader) Mitch McConnell and I haven'tpersuaded (House GOP leader) John Boehner."
Even though Democrats will control both houses of Congress untilJanuary, Obama insisted the deal was necessary to ensure enoughRepublican support in Congress to extend unemployment benefits thatalso are about to expire, and he said a long, bloody battle withthe GOP would be detrimental to recession-weary Americans.
"This isn't an abstract debate. This is real money for realpeople," he said. "This package will help strengthen therecovery. That I'm confident about."
Obama called the news conference in the face of Democraticcriticism of the agreement, which still needs House and Senateapproval.
It was part of a full-scale defense, with the White Housearguing the deal would pump billions into the economy at a time itis recovering from the worst recession in eight decades andunemployment stands at 9.8 percent.
The plan calls for extending tax cuts from the Bush era that aredue to expire at year's end, renewing jobless benefits through theend of 2011 and granting a one-year cut in Social Security taxes.Several officials said the package could add $900 billion or moreto the federal deficit over two years.
Obama said he expects the unemployment rate to go down becauseof the compromise, although he would not predict by how much.
He also said he believes the jobless rate will recede becausethe economy is growing, even if businesses haven't yet picked upthe pace of hiring enough to send large numbers of people back towork.
Obama spoke as Vice President Joe Biden met at the Capitol withSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid and then other Democraticsenators. House Democrats were holding their own closed-doormeeting later Tuesday.
"It's something that's not done yet," said Reid, D-Nev."We're going to have to do some more work," he said after themeeting with Biden and members of the Democratic rank-and-file.
Across the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued astatement that said merely, "We will continue discussions with thepresident and our caucus in the days ahead."