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.
“At this point, I think it would be very smart for the United States Congress to take a step on what we can all agree to,” she added, echoing the president’s message from Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said he would schedule a vote on the president’s plan, even though it — like Republicans’ demands for more votes to repeal the health care law — is sure to go nowhere.
Reid, along with other Democrats after the confab with the White House envoys, repeatedly noted that all taxpayers would get a cut on the first $250,000 they make.
Republicans, he said, are “holding tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans hostage in order to exact even bigger tax giveaways to the top 2 percent.”
And he came out of the meeting spitting fire at presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
“Romney doesn’t need additional tax breaks. In fact, the U.S. tax code is probably an afterthought for him, given how much money he obviously has placed in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda,” Reid ripped.
The Majority Leader said he always admired Romney’s father, the late Michigan Gov. George Romney, and said his son should follow in his footsteps and release his tax returns.
Reid acknowledged there may not be unanimity among Democrats on the $250,000 threshold, but that doesn’t mean they’ll vote against it.
Obama, meanwhile, will reinforce the message at a meeting with Democratic leaders at the White House on Wednesday afternoon to discuss his tax proposals and the rest of the legislative agenda.
The meetings come as Democrats try to present a united front four months before the elections.
In the hour-and-a-half House Democratic meeting, Axelrod was joined by Obama senior adviser Broderick Johnson and the president’s director of opinion research, David Simas.
The group spoke about the president’s re-election strategy, which focuses on winning Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The campaign is spending some $24 million in those states this month on ads targeting Romney, and the group played some of those ads during the meeting.
“They absolutely reminded us of the achievements of this administration,” Rep. Robert Andrews (N.J.) said after the meeting. “They also educated us about some things about Mitt Romney’s record that I frankly didn’t know.”
He noted that the Obama advisers told the Caucus that while Romney was governor of Massachusetts, the state ranked first in state debt and 47th in job creation out of all 50 states.
The meeting came the same day Karl Rove’s super PAC, Crossroads GPS, debuted a $25 million anti-Obama ad blitz across nine states, including some of the same states the president’s campaign is targeting.
Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra said Obama’s advisers also gave a presentation about jobs and the economy and combating attacks from Republicans.
“The president’s team focused on moving the country forward, talked about all the things that have been done to take us from this economic abyss that we found ourselves in to the point where now, after 28 consecutive months of job growth, we see over 4.5 million Americans back at work,” the California Democrat said. “They talked about how they’re going to continue that and they’re going to battle against the disinformation that may come out from the other side.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.