By Mike Lillis, Peter Schroeder and Bernie Becker - 07/10/12 07:00 PM EDT
Top members of President Obama’s team convened on both sides of Capitol Hill Tuesday, as campaign strategists and economic advisers sold the president’s new tax push and powwowed on campaign tactics.
Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod and other Obama advisers first spoke to House Democrats during their weekly caucus meeting Tuesday morning, offering tips for attacking the presumptive GOP nominee, Mitt Romney
Senators said the officials came to make the case for the White House plan to extend for one year current tax rates for family income up to $250,000 a year.
“Secretary Geithner shared the importance of sending a strong message to America’s middle class that’s in a recovery that raising taxes at this time on the middle class would not be a good idea,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) following the closed-door meeting, which ran over an hour.
Leaving the meeting, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) suggested that both Democrats and Republicans would both try to show the public they were better stewards of the economy.
“This month is all going to be about taxes and small business,” Begich said. “And it’ll be an interesting debate.”
After the House gathering, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) said Obama’s advisers "reminded us of the achievements of this administration [and] they also educated us about some things about Mitt Romney's record that I frankly didn't know.”
“I didn't … know that Massachusetts was first in the country in state debt, and 47th in the country in job creation, when he was governor,” Andrews said. “He almost never talks about his term as governor [and] I now understand why. This is a guy who's running around the country who's saying, 'I know how to create jobs, and I know how to cut debt.' Well, evidently he had a four-year period of amnesia when he was governor of Massachusetts, because they were No. 1 in debt and almost last in jobs.
“But don't tell anyone I said it here this morning,” Andrews quipped, “cause I think he wants to keep it a secret.”
Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Obama's team advised the Democrats to highlight the distinction between Obama's jobs strategy – which focuses on education, green development and infrastructure spending – and the Republicans' efforts this week to repeal the Democrats' healthcare reform law.
“It's all about getting the middle class back where it needs to be,” Becerra said. “We still have yet to see a jobs agenda [from Republicans].”
Becerra said Obama's advisors – Axelrod was joined by senior Obama advisors Broderick Johnson and David Simas – also highlighted the administration's efforts to get voters to the polls in November. The sense is that, while Romney has raked in more campaign cash in the last two months, the White House feels it has an on-the-ground advantage.
“They made it very clear: They're not going to cede any ground; they're not going to cede one vote,” Becerra said. “They will get out there and put together the best campaign that has been recorded in this country's history by, not just getting out there and asking Americans of every stripe to contribute to their campaign for reelection, but also to put on the ground the largest army of volunteers to go out there and encourage Americans to vote.
“We want all Americans to vote,” he added. “The more [people] vote, the better off we believe the president is.”
On the Senate side, some Democrats had pushed for keeping current tax rates on income up to $1 million annually. But several Democrats said Tuesday there was general unity around at least extending it for the lower amount, with some adding Congress could revisit the matter in the future.
“We can agree on the [$250,000] tax cut now, and if there’s a possibility to go higher later we can,” Landrieu said. “But what’s important I think now is to get to a consensus about sending a positive signal to the middle class in America that their taxes should stay the same.”
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the retiring chairman of the Budget Committee, also noted that the $250,000 threshold would offer policymakers more revenue to rein in the federal debt, as Washington officials continue to try to pave the way for a grand deficit bargain.
The North Dakota Democrat added that other Democratic senators had brought up that raising taxes on the wealthiest polled well with voters.
“I think there’s broad agreement that that is an entirely reasonable place to be,” Conrad said.
Still, more than a couple Democrats were tight-lipped following the meeting, refusing to comment on what was discussed privately.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ messaging guru, told reporters to ask the Treasury secretary how the meeting went.
“He’ll tell you,” he said.
But by that point, Geithner was long gone, after having been similarly mum with reporters.
“Nice to see you all,” he said.
This story was updated at 4:22 p.m.