WASHINGTON - President Obama went before the White House press corps Tuesday, blaming the Republicans for boxing him into a very difficult position that forced him to cut a deal to extend the Bush tax cuts.
He betrayed the irritated tones and combative rhetoric of a sore loser who got the raw end of the deal that he wished he didn't have to make. He accused Republicans of engaging in hostage taking, and said they worshiped the "holy grail" of tax cuts for the rich.
The latter charge is pure demagoguery. Republicans, to quote the late tax-cut crusader Jack Kemp, "worship at the altar of economic growth" and lower tax rates for everyone. Like President Kennedy, who cut taxes across the board, they believe "a rising tide lifts all boats."
But it was the Democrats, not Republicans, who were responsible for the end-of-the-year, lame-duck bind that Obama found himself in, and Republicans were forced to play the restricted legislative hand they had been dealt by the party in power.
Nowadays it takes 60 votes to make controversial legislation the pending business in the Senate, where the rights of the minority are zealously protected and, yes, exploited by both parties when it serves their interests.
But with his party's congressional liberals, whom Obama called "sanctimonious," accusing him of caving on his campaign pledge to raise taxes on the rich, the president fell back on a lame excuse: I was outmaneuvered by the Republicans.
Legislative maneuvering is an art form that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has mastered almost to perfection. It is quite remarkable that, with a little more than 40 GOP senators on his side of the aisle, he has managed to hold his party together through many difficult votes -- and attract some Democrats to his side, which isn't easy to do.
Liberals complained that Obama wouldn't have been put in this position if Democrats had acted on the tax extension earlier in the year. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid kept putting it off. Why? Tax-happy Democrats like Sen. Barbra Boxer of California and others, who were in tough re-election fights, begged him not to schedule a vote until after the election because they did not want to be seen voting to raise taxes on anyone. Reid complied and the result was a one-month deadline that gave the Republicans a strategic advantage and boxed in the president, forcing him to hold his nose and go for a quick compromise or else see taxes rise on every American.
So Republicans not only got a two-year extension of the Bush tax-rate cuts, instead of making them permanent as they wanted, but also something more.