Obama Desperate to Show Tax Support

The White House is waging a PR war.


Starved of Democratic support on Capitol Hill for his tax compromise with Republican leaders, President Obama has been forced to cast a wide net over the country in hopes of snaring some help. His meager take so far: the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., Anthony Foxx, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, and Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]

[Updated Thursday morning 12/9: Overnight, the White House lined up more support on Capitol Hill and outside-the-beltway for its tax plan, giving the president confidence that he will be able to win Democratic approval. Among those who the White House added to its growing roster of backers: Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, Texas Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards, Columbus, Ohio Mayor Michael Coleman, Michigan Gov. Governor Jennifer Granholm, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, and others.]

Throughout the day, the White House has been issuing press releases heralding the support with headlines like: “Charlotte Mayor Backs Middle Class Tax Cut Framework." Others have included positive commentary about the tax compromise from financial institutions and liberal analysts like Washington Post columnist Erza Klein. [Read 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bush Tax Cuts.]

It’s a press release practice normally used by the political parties, and the Democratic National Committee was in on it to. They issued several news releases detailing editorial endorsements of the plan. The general glum theme captured in one headline sent out by the DNC: “Tax-Cut Deal: If It’s Good for Regular Americans, Isn’t That Good Enough for Now?” 

But citing the mayor of Charlotte as a key supporter of the tax compromise that will let the wealthy keep the Bush tax cut Obama campaigned against? Why not, says the mayor: “We count. We’re not Podunk,” Foxx tells Whispers. In fact, Foxx is a friend of the White House. He was one of a few big city mayors the White House earlier this year asked to hold town halls to discuss the economy. Foxx says he held four and delivered the concerns by hand to the White House. “This city is actually pretty sophisticated in understanding the challenges of the national economy,” says Foxx. [See photos of Bush’s legacy.]

What’s more, he believes Congress needs to hear from the nation’s mayors and governors who are dealing with unemployment every day and need help now. “We can wait for perfection,” he says, “but it’s going to be a long cold winter waiting.”

In his press release, sent out by the White House, Foxx included details right out of the White House talking points. He focused on the potential for creating jobs if the deal is approved. “The proposal will create jobs through a combination of payroll tax cuts, business investment tax cuts and unemployment help, many of which were endorsed by the President’s Deficit Commission.   There is still much more work to do but this proposal is also an encouraging sign that bipartisanship will work in Washington over the next two years. I call on Congress to approve this measure without delay,” says Foxx. [See editorial cartoons about the economy.]

A key Democratic adviser says the goal of the unusual White House effort is to show Congressional Democrats that folks outside-the-beltway want action. “He’s trying to show that in the real world outside of Washington and New York, people are hurting and do not want partisan games, they need help and action now,” said the adviser.

But while it’s a good strategy, the same adviser says it’s a game of catch-up. First, the White House should have won over congressional Democrats. “Unfortunately they did not do their politics with Democrats or the base. There is clearly a lot of frustration but it could have been handled better which is why on the one hand it was the right thing to do, how he got there was ugly and may cost him down the road,” says the advisor. [See which industries give the most to Congress.]

Democratic pollster Peter Hart agrees that Obama mishandled the tax deal, though in the end it was the right thing to do. His point: Obama should have squeezed the Republicans for a better deal.

  • See a slide show of 10 Top Congressional Travel Destinations
  • See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.
  • Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons on the economy.
  • Corrected on : Updated on 12/9/10