Dec. 10, 2010— -- President Obama today brought out former president and Democratic heavyweight Bill Clinton for an impromptu press conference to tout his tax cut deal with Republicans that has earned the ire of many liberal Democrats.
"The agreement, taken as a whole," Clinton said, "is, I believe, the best bipartisan agreement we can reach to help the largest number of Americans, and to maximize the chances that the economic recovery will accelerate and create more jobs, and to minimize the chances that it will slip back, which is what has happened in other financial collapses."
The payroll tax credit will "actually create a fair number of jobs," he added. "I expect it to lower the unemployment rate and keep us going."
The former president was at the White House for a meeting with Obama. The president said he had a "terrific meeting" with Clinton, who he introduced as the president who "presided over as good of an economy as we've seen in our lifetimes."
The last time the White House brought out the former president was earlier this year, when Clinton visited Democratic lawmakers to stump for the health care bill.
In the briefing room today, a seemingly comfortable Clinton pushed his fellow Democrats dubious of the deal to support the president.
"In my opinion, this is a good bill and I hope that my fellow Democrats will support it," Clinton said. "I thank the Republican leaders for agreeing to include things that were important to the president.
"There's never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of the partisans, and we all see this differently, but I really believe this will be a significant net plus for the country," he added.
"If I were in office now, I would've done what the president has done," Clinton said later.
Obama's deal with Republicans entails new tax credits and tax cut extension for all income groups for two years. It also includes an estate tax provision that would lower taxes on inherited income.
Democrats charge that the president caved in too quickly to Republican demands and that he should have stuck with his original argument to extend tax cuts only for lower- and middle-income groups.
On Thursday, House Democrats passed a resolution overwhelmingly rejecting the deal and highlighting the growing rift inside the president's own party. In the Senate today, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., railed against the bill for more than eight full hours, saying that the president made a "bad compromise."
Obama has argued that he had to find a compromise to make sure middle-class Americans weren't slapped with tax hikes in 2011. The White House also got some concessions, including an extension of several tax credits and unemployment benefits for another 13 months that are expected to help about 9 million Americans.
Bill Clinton Touts Obama-GOP Tax Cut Deal
Clinton backed up his predecessor and disagreed with his Democratic colleagues that the agreement is a bad deal, and argued that waiting actually would hurt Democrats.
Echoing Obama, Clinton said he disagreed with extending tax cuts for high-income earners like himself, but argued that timing was important.
"In January, they [Republicans] will be in the majority and this [majority] would dramatically reduce their incentive to extend unemployment benefits, to support the conversion of Make Work Pay tax credit that President Obama enacted into this payroll tax [credit]," Clinton said.
"The results are what they are," he added later. "The numbers will only get worse in January, in terms of negotiating."
Clinton said he wasn't asked by the administration to speak to any particular lawmakers, and added that he has "no idea" if his appearance at the podium today will help sway votes.
The former president also urged senators to ratify the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that has been stalled in partisanship.
"The START agreement is very important to the future of our national security and it is not a radical agreement," he said. "This is something that is profoundly important. This ought to be way beyond party."
Republicans say they want to deal with tax and spending issues first before voting on the START treaty.
Clinton also urged his fellow Democrats to fight against the repeal of the health care bill -- a key campaign issue for many Republicans -- and the repeal of the financial reform legislation.