An unusual standing-room-only crowd of reporters gathered for House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer’s weekly off-camera press session Tuesday morning.
Overnight, some House Democrats reacted angrily to news of President Obama’s compromise deal with congressional Republicans to allow tax cuts for the wealthy be extended in return for cuts for the middle class.
Hoyer told the crowd he regretted Mr. Obama was not able to hold to his no-tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy pledge — the position of the vast majority of congressional Democrats.
But, tellingly, he blamed Republicans for forcing the president’s hand.
“(Senate Republican Leader) Mitch McConnell and the Republicans held middle class tax cuts hostage to cuts for the wealthy,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer said he personally was undecided on the White House agreement and said it would be discussed among all House Democrats when they meet this evening.
Asked whether the president had “caved” to Republicans, Hoyer said, “the president was confronted with a difficult situation of taxes for middle class going up in 20 days” — the end of December, when Bush-era income tax reductions for all earners expire.
Hoyer however went on to praise other features of the White House agreement that were insisted on by Mr. Obama and agreed to by Republicans.
They include a historic 13-month extension of unemployment benefits.
“We have never not extended unemployment insurance when the unemployment rate is above seven percent,” Hoyer said. The unemployment rate has now topped 9 percent for 19 straight months, the longest stretch on record.
Hoyer said the proposed two percentage point reduction in Social Security withholding from the paychecks of middle class earners also would help stimulate consumer spending and therefore, the sluggish economy.
Hoyer seemed to defend the two-year, $900 billion dollar cost of the compromise even in the face of huge deficits saying, “if you don’t grow the economy, you can’t (reduce) the deficit. The only way is to invest. Seventy percent of the economy is consumer spending. (Extending unemployment) puts money in the pockets of people who don’t have any to spend.”
Find more coverage of the tax cuts debate on our Politics page.