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Obama Calls Out GOP on Benghazi Smears, Pushes House on Middle-Class Tax Break

The president addressed climate change, immigration and job creation, and issued a warning to two top GOP senators.

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Obama also called for action on climate change, and in response to a question from New York Times reporter Mark Landler, said he was looking at ways to get started quickly. However, he said, he intended to undertake a national education campaign on the problem, noting "regional differences" in attitudes about the issue. 

"There’s no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices, and you know, understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that.

"If, on the other hand," he continued, "we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support."

The Mandate

In his opening remarks, Obama discussed his vision for economic recovery -- “jobs and growth” -- which he described as a mix of investments in infrastructure, clean energy and other technologies, as well as research and development overall, while “reducing our deficit in a balanced and responsible way.”

His lack of specificity may leave some progressives nervous, especially when it comes to all the noise Republicans continue to make about the nation’s broadest safety-net programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. But if the aim truly is to open a negotiation as Congress faces the consequences of its deal on last year’s debt-ceiling legislation -- that they would hammer out a deficit-reduction deal or face a slew of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts -- any vagueness could simply be strategy for enticing the Republicans to lay out a plan rather than simply opposing the president.

Recalling the debt-ceiling battle of 2011, when House Republicans opposed a revenue-raising measure that would have allowed the Bush-era tax cuts to expire on the wealthiest Americans -- which led Obama to go along with the extension of tax cuts for the top 2 percent of income-earners -- CNN’s Jessica Yellin asked Obama why the American people and Congress should believe “you won’t cave again.”

“But what I said at the time is what I meant, which is this was a one-time proposition,” Obama replied. “And you know, what I have told leaders privately as well as publicly is that we cannot afford to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. What we can do is make sure that middle-class taxes don’t go up.”

The president then reiterated the challenge he issued last Friday to House Republicans: to support a bill that has already passed the Senate to extend those tax cuts only to the first $250,000 earned by a family. “We can do that next week,” Obama said.

Obama knows it’s highly unlikely that House Speaker John Boehner would dare to recommend the president’s proposal to his members, especially in the current lame duck session. What the president is doing is revealing to the rest of America the obstructionist nature of the GOP Congress. He’s basically saying, if you guys hate any kind of tax increase on anybody, and Democrats hate the idea of a tax increase on people who are not rich, why don’t we agree not to raise taxes on people who aren’t rich?

In calling the question, he lifts the curtains on the dynamics between the parties, showing how Republicans oppose him simply on principle. And that creates a setting in which, if the Republicans refuse to budge and the massive spending cuts of the debt-ceiling deal consequently take place, the GOP is clearly the problem.