WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is assuring liberal allies that he will fight for the middle class during upcoming fiscal negotiations with Republicans and urging them not to lay down their weapons just because the election is over.
But the White House is also talking about the inevitability of compromise as the two sides prepare to negotiate an end-of-year fiscal deal that will center on the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and a spate of automatic spending cuts.
The preparations are bringing progressive allies and business leaders alike to the White House this week, leading up to the president's summit Friday with congressional leaders of both parties — their first session since his re-election.
In an hourlong meeting with labor and other progressive leaders on Tuesday, the president promised to stand firm on the tax principles he outlined in the campaign, according to several people who were present.
They departed the West Wing under a bright sky, the victory they helped Obama win fresh in their minds. They were heartened that Obama emphasized the need for "balance" between spending cuts and revenue increases and for the wealthy to bear a fairer share of the tax burden, said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress.
"He said that this election was about the middle class and fairness," said Tanden. "He's standing firm on taxes on the wealthiest Americans."
Labor leaders were adamant that the deal protect the middle-class tax cuts, said AFL-CIO chief Rich Trumka. "Do we believe the president is committed to that same thing?" he said after emerging from the West Wing. "Yes, we do."
White House officials are talking about a schedule in which the president would stay on the campaign trail, with the aim of keeping the pressure on House Republicans to renew the expiring tax cuts for the middle class while letting those for the wealthy expire.
As the Tuesday meeting was breaking up, White House press secretary Jay Carney was just steps away in the briefing room talking about the realities of negotiation. The "whole point of compromise," he said, "is that nobody gets to achieve their maximalist position."
The president in the past has demonstrated a willingness, he said, to "give" in an effort to "meet your negotiating partner somewhere in the middle and reach a deal."
As they stake out their negotiating territory, business leaders are signaling resistance to the idea of letting the tax cuts expire for any Americans, including the wealthy.
In a letter to the president, several CEOs warned of the economic perils of cutting spending dramatically while simultaneously raising taxes. If the president and Congress can't agree on how to head off those automatic changes, they'll both begin to take effect at the end of the year.
"Experts agree such immediate changes will most likely reduce economic growth and hinder employment in the United States and globally," said the letter, signed by several CEOs including some who are invited to the White House today. "This would be particularly damaging as economies throughout the world struggle and look to us for leadership."
The meeting is expected to be a little tense as the two sides stake out their territory. That's what the progressive leaders hope for.
Quietly, some of them worry about the inevitable "give" that Carney talked about. As they left the White House grounds on Tuesday, they spoke of nothing but optimism — even if they did speak in terms of supporting particular principles, not particular leaders.
Asked if he would help the president lobby the Congress, Trumka said he was "prepared to stand up to make sure that there is shared sacrifice here, so the rich actually start paying their fair share."