President Obama defends tax-cut compromise and lashes out at left

President Obama blasted his own party for choosing ideological purity over results Tuesday as he sought to defend the tax-cut deal he negotiated with Republicans.

In a surprise news conference at the White House, Obama angrily criticized liberals who say he caved by compromising with Republicans over the Bush tax cuts, telling Democrats that “sanctimonious” outrage does not help the American people.

The New York Times editorial page does not permeate all across America,” Obama said.

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The president said he is chomping at the bit to fight Republicans over the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy over the next two years, but for now he said he had to ensure that middle-class tax rates were not raised.

“This is the public option debate all over again,” Obama said, referring to the disappointment liberals voiced when the president signed a healthcare bill that did not include a public health insurance option.

If the bar for success is ideological purity, Obama said, then “people will have the satisfaction of a purist position and no deals for the American people.”

Obama spoke as the deal he negotiated met with a backlash from members of his own party in both the Senate and House. The agreement with Republicans would extend all of the Bush tax cuts for two years, including those for people making income above $250,000 a year. Obama had campaigned to end those tax cuts. 

The deal would also extend unemployment benefits for a year and introduce a one-year payroll tax reduction for all workers. 

The extended tax cuts for the rich met with fury from some Democrats. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized provisions in the deal that she said would increase the deficit without creating jobs, and House Democratic leaders made it clear they were not on board. 

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said she couldn’t believe Obama agreed to extend tax cuts for families earning more than $1 million after pledging in the 2008 presidential campaign to set the threshold at $250,000 for extended tax cuts. 

If the tone from Capitol Hill Democrats was striking, so was Obama’s. He bristled at suggestions he had betrayed his Democratic principles and challenged Republicans to a two-year fight over tax cuts.

In the coming two years, Obama said, if Republicans “test whether or not I'm itching for a fight on a whole range of issues, I suspect they'll find I am."

Obama said he would have loved to have fought Republicans on the tax-cut issue this time around, but that he could not risk the “collateral damage” of Americans facing higher taxes while the battle was waged.

Calling tax cuts for the rich the GOP’s “Holy Grail,” Obama said he has already convinced the American people that he is right, and he will fight to end the cuts over the next two years when middle-class tax cuts and unemployment insurance benefits are close to expiration.

“I know the polls. The polls are on our side on this,” Obama said. He added: “Either [Republicans] rethink their position, or I don't think they’re going to do very well in 2012.”

This story was originally created at 3:23 p.m. and updated at 8:34 p.m.