Emotional Obama hits out over tax deal vote

An angry Barack Obama yesterday defended his tax deal with Republican opponents and hit back at critical fellow Democrats, warning them against becoming too ideologically pure and self-satisfied.

In an unusual show of emotion in his two-year presidency, the US President responded hotly at a news conference when asked about liberal claims that he had broken campaign promises.

"Take a tally. Look at what I promised during the campaign. There's not a single thing that I haven't done or tried to do," Mr Obama said.

The deal provided the first big test of how Mr Obama will work out compromises with Republicans as they take control of the House of Representatives and their minority shrinks in the Senate when the new Congress takes over in January.

Mr Obama struggled to prevent wholesale defections by fellow Democrats that could sink the tax deal if it comes to a vote before then.

Democrats still have sizeable majorities although the party is dispirited and divided after last month's Republican election success.

Many Republican politicians seemed ready to embrace the compromise with Mr Obama and declare victory. The question was whether enough Democrats would join them in support, especially in the House of Representatives, where liberal resentment of the president's concessions on tax breaks for the wealthiest runs strong.

If Democrats kill the tax plan, it would mark a stunning defeat for Mr Obama and a huge political bet that voters will blame Republicans as much as Democrats for an impasse that leads to higher taxes next month for millions of Americans.

Mr Obama and most in his party had insisted that across-the-board tax cuts that were put in place during the administration of George Bush should not be extended for wealthy Americans.

Democrats fought hard but lost the battle in Congress over the weekend to keep cuts in place for middle- and low-income taxpayers while ending them for the wealthy.

Instead Mr Obama he had reached a compromise with Republicans that would keep the cuts in place for all Americans for two years in exchange for Republican votes to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed, that were due run out at the end of the year.

For Republicans, he said, "this is their holy grail, these tax cuts for the wealthy".

Mr Obama said he had no choice because Republicans were holding middle-class Americans hostage.

"It's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then, people will question the wisdom of that strategy," he said.

"In this case, the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed."

But Mr Obama reserved his most eloquent comments for the end of the White House news conference and his defence against critics on the left, warning them that they were setting a course for stalemate in the midst of the worst economy in eight decades.

Holding fast to "a purist position," he said, would allow Democrats "to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are".

Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York said: "I don't think that the President should count on Democratic votes to get this deal passed. It's a bad deal that wasn't skilfully negotiated."