By Sam Youngman - 12/17/10 09:47 PM EST
President Obama signed the $858 billion tax package on Friday, calling it proof that Republicans and Democrats can work together.
At a signing ceremony for the package in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Obama thanked Republicans for working with the White House and acknowledged that there are parts of the package he himself opposes.
“That's the nature of compromise,” said Obama, who called the agreement “a good deal for the American people.”
Obama’s agreement with Republicans to extend tax cuts signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003 infuriated Democrats and Obama’s liberal supporters. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) didn’t attend the singing ceremony, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the Republican most responsible for the deal, was in attendance.
The tax rates were set to expire at the end of the year, and will now become a campaign issue for Obama in his 2012 reelection bid.
The House voted 277-148 in favor of the package late Thursday night. Democrats were split, with 139 supporting the package and 112 in opposition. Only one member of the House Democratic leadership, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), supported the final bill. Pelosi did not vote, and Reps. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) all opposed the legislation.
As such, the tax deal represented a precursor for what is to come in January, when Democrats give up control of the House to Republicans and an era of divided government formally begins. In the Senate, McConnell will have a larger minority of 47 senators.
Obama said that if both sides are serious about taming the deficit, then the tax-cut agreement will seem “easier than some of the tougher choices we're going to have to make next year.”
To that end, Obama joked that there will be times in the next year when "the holiday spirit won't be as abundant as it is today."
But Obama said that if Republicans and Democrats can achieve more compromises for the greater good, "we can get a lot done."
Obama thanked Republicans for their “willingness to do what was right for the country even though it caused occasional political discomfort.”
The president praised the bill, saying that he was there “with some good news for the American people this holiday season.”
The package extends the Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers for two years, and also includes a 35 percent estate tax that exempts individual holdings worth less than $5 million. That provision was scorned by Democrats in the House and Senate.
It would also extends unemployment insurance benefits for 13 months, and introduces a one-year, 2 percent cut in the payroll tax for all workers. Both of those provisions are seen as an additional economic stimulus for the economy, and some Republicans had objected to their inclusion in the bill.
Signing the package represents a major achievement for Obama, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs characterized it as a major win on Friday.
It could also mark the beginning of a successful lame-duck session for Obama and a turning point for his presidency just more than a month after he took a “shellacking” at the polls in the midterm elections.
A repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military appears to have enough votes in the Senate for passage. It’s also looking more likely that the Senate will approve the New START arms treaty with Russia, which would lock in a major foreign policy accomplishment for the president.
Congress appears likely to only approve a short-term funding mechanism for the government, however, which means Obama will have to contend with congressional Republicans early next year over spending cuts.
Before Obama entered the room, Vice President Joe Biden thanked McConnell and Republicans who were “willing to take issue with some of their own party” to get the agreement done.
“This package is the result of leaders from both sides coming together to act on behalf of the American people at a time when they need it most,” Biden said.
Winning congressional approval of the tax package was not an easy sell, and the White House rolled out a full-court press to ensure its passage.
The White House unleashed a public relations bonanza, e-mailing reporters several times a day to announce the support of various officials from the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., to different members of Congress.
The president even brought in a secret weapon — former President Clinton — to speak to reporters last week about his support for the agreement.
In addition to a legislative win in the lame-duck, the White House believes that by signing a two-year extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy, the president has given himself a strong campaign issue — rolling back those tax cuts for the rich.