White House adviser Jarrett pushes back on debt deal rage

theGRIO REPORT - President Obama is facing a backlash from progressives, and from members of the Congressional Black Caucus over the deal...

The White House on Monday began its push-back against critics of the debt ceiling deal reached with Republican and Democratic House and Senate leaders on Sunday, deploying senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett to explain the deal.

In an on-the-record call with reporters representing news outlets with primarily black audiences, including theGrio, Jarrett and Jason Furman, Principal Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, defended what they called a ”$1 trillion down payment on deficit reduction.”

The deal allow the president to request a debt ceiling increase of $2.1 trillion in two steps, with Congress having the opportunity to vote its disapproval — a plan Furman called a “de facto unconditional increase in the debt limit through 2013…with a little bit of process but a foregone conclusion.”

President Obama is facing a backlash from progressives, and from members of the Congressional Black Caucus over the deal, which CBC chair Emanuel Cleaver called a “sugar coated Satan sandwich” on Sunday.

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Of primary concern: the deal contains more than $1 trillion in budget cuts (actually budget “caps”) over ten years, but no new revenues, and none of the “shared sacrifice” President Obama and Democrats have called for. Also of concern: the possibility of steep cuts in discretionary spending that could impact low income communities by slashing programs the benefit the elderly and the poor.

The White House call was intended to emphasize what was protected in the deal, rather than the opportunities lost, including the fact that the “trigger” mechanism that would kick in if a bipartisan committee failed to come up with an additional $2.7 trillion in deficit reduction, would exempt Security, Medicaid, food stamps, and the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF program.
Jarrett and Furman emphasized that the automatic discretionary budget cuts called for in the bill if the “super-committee” fails would include a 50-50 split between defense and non-defense cuts, resulting in an 8 percent reduction for the Pentagon, and 4 percent for the other programs facing the budget axe.

And the White House continues to insist that the president would veto any budget bill that included an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — seeing the scheduled expiration of all of the tax cuts in December 2012 as an incentive for Republicans to negotiate a larger tax reform deal.

Critics of the White House would point out that we’ve been there before, in December 2010, when Republicans demanded an extension of all of the Bush tax cuts in exchange for allowing an extension of unemployment benefits.

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Still others continue to ask why the White House didn’t demand a debt ceiling increase during the lame duck session last December, when the Senate and House managed to pass a repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gays serving in the military, a START treaty with Russia, and other priorities. Jarrett said the president “would have very much liked to have this taken care of in December,” but that it was not possible to get it through Congress at the time.

Asked why the president didn’t simply announce on Sunday that he would veto any attempt to extend the tax cuts, instead allowing all of them to expire, Jarrett said the president opposes only the high income tax cuts, but supports those for the middle class. She said the president believes that “while the economy is still fragile,” the middle class tax cuts should remain in place.

As for what Congressional Black Caucus members should tell their constituents who oppose the deal, and who consider it a capitulation to Republicans, with no sacrifices for the wealthy, Jarrett said the bottom line was time.

“We are on the last day here,” she said. “There’s nothing that could be more devastating to the people (Black Caucus members) represent than if we went into default.” Citing the dramatic rise in interest rates on houses, cars and credit cards as consequences of not raising the debt ceiling, Jarret said “we really have no choice but to pass this bill. The consequences of not passing (it) would be devastating.”