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Obama Camp Looks to Unify Hill Democrats

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Senior campaign adviser David Axelrod (center) met with House and Senate Democrats on Tuesday to discuss President Barack Obama’s re-election, his tax plans and his nine-state campaign strategy.

A day after President Barack Obama relit the partisan war over the Bush tax cuts, the president’s team deployed to Capitol Hill to reassure Democrats about the president’s re-election and messaging strategy.

Senior campaign adviser David Axelrod briefed House and Senate lawmakers about the president’s nine-state campaign strategy, while Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Senators about the importance of the president’s tax plans.

In particular, Geithner emphasized sticking to the $250,000 income threshold for tax cuts, which the president reiterated Monday, as part of a broader need to be serious about reducing the deficit, sources said.

The $250,000 threshold is not new, of course, but came as a rejection of Democrats, such as Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who have been pushing a $1 million threshold for tax hikes.

That higher threshold is an easier sell in wealthier blue states such as New York and California. Plus, it sets up a bright line on taxing “millionaires and billionaires.” It doesn’t hurt on the fundraising circuit either. But many in the party, including Schumer’s housemate Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), chafed at such a high level and the idea that Democrats believed that someone making $999,999 a year somehow might qualify as “middle class.”

If the election is going to be about the middle class, “let’s make it about the middle class,” one senior Democratic aide said.

Durbin called the president’s decision important.

“I think it’s reasonable to say that we’re protecting 98 percent of the people in America,” he said. “And secondly, we’re also talking about a responsible position when it comes to deficit reduction. To go higher than $250,000 means that more will have to be cut from spending programs, Medicare or other taxes raised.”

Schumer had been pushing the president’s small-business tax cut plan on the Senate floor this week, but Obama instead chose to emphasize his plan to let the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy expire. So instead of beating the drums for tax cuts, Democrats are spending their time talking about what income level should trigger a tax hike.

But the meetings Tuesday appeared to have some effect on unifying the party, and Schumer is falling in line, declining to offer his amendment for a $1 million tax cut.

Senators came out of the meeting spouting the same talking points.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.) said she might support tax cuts above the $250,000 level but virtually everyone — Republican and Democrat — supports at least up to that level.

“We can agree on the [$250,000 level] tax cut now, and if there’s a possibility to go higher later, we can,” she said.

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