WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama struggled Tuesday to prevent wholesale defections by fellow Democrats that could sink the tax deal he worked out with Republicans — angry opposition that could subject millions of Americans to a big holiday-season tax increase.
Many GOP lawmakers seemed ready to embrace the Obama-GOP compromise and declare victory. The question was whether enough Democrats would join them in support, especially in the House, where liberal resentment of the president's concessions on tax breaks for the wealthiest runs strong.
At a news conference, Obama gave a ringing defense of his compromise, declaring it the necessary price for heading off a tax increase that neither taxpayers nor the weak economy could stand and for gaining more months of unemployment payments for millions of jobless workers.
The compromise plan would extend unemployment benefits for millions of people and reduce Social Security payroll taxes for a year. Workers would pay a 4.2 percent tax rate instead of 6.2 percent.
That means a worker who earns $40,000 a year would get to keep an extra $800 in 2011, one who makes $70,000 would get $1,400, and one who earns $100,000 would take home $2,000 more. Social Security payroll taxes are generally levied on the first $106,800 of income.
Democratic leaders in the House criticized the plan but stopped short of saying they would try to block it.
In a 35-minute news conference, Obama chastised liberals for seeking ideological purity that would cause legislative logjams on vital issues. He didn't spare Republicans, either, likening them to "hostage takers" willing to hurt the great majority of Americans for the "holy grail" of extending tax cuts for millionaires.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was noncommittal after Obama's afternoon appearance, saying she would discuss the matter with fellow Democrats. "So far the response has not been very good," she said after meeting with other Democratic leaders. Another House Democratic leader, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, said he couldn't recommend it.
Obama said no one is entirely happy with the compromise, but "it's a good deal for the American people."
Despite their minority status, Senate Republicans managed last week to block Obama's long-promised bid to end Bush-era tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000. They insisted that all the tax cuts from 2001 and 2003, scheduled to expire Dec. 31, be extended, for rich and poor alike.
"I have not been able to budge them," Obama said. Without a compromise, he said, 2 million unemployed people "may not be able to pay their bills, and tens of millions of people who are struggling right now are suddenly going to see their paychecks smaller" because of income tax increases.