Stuck in the Middle: Obama Is the Target of Left and Right Over Taxes

VIDEO: Extending Tax Cuts and Unemployment
WATCH Congressional Chaos: Democrats Slam Obama Plan

Obama administration officials aggressively have been selling the deal they struck with congressional leaders on the Bush-era tax cuts only to find themselves the fending off body blows from both their right and left flanks.

The most jarring development came on Thursday when House Democrats voted not to bring the tax package to the House floor in its current form. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., a leader of the Democratic revolt, called the deal "inherently defective" and said he and other members of his party would demand changes.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., one of the harshest critics of the tax proposal, took direct aim at the president: "Unfortunately, I think that President Obama sees the job more as negotiator-in-chief than really the leader of our country and the leader of our party," he said in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos Thursday morning, adding that he expected the president would have embarked on a persuasion tour of the country before starting negotiations with Republicans.

Earlier this week, Weiner's Democratic counterpart from New York, Rep. Gary Ackerman, put it even more bluntly: "We got screwed." And Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana called the tax plan "almost morally corrupt."

Although most Republicans embraced the provision in the compromise that temporarily extends tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, GOP leaders have not spared Obama their criticism either.

"The biggest problem I have," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., told a conservative radio talk show host this week, "is we don't need a temporary economy, which means we don't need a temporary tax rate. A permanent extension of our current tax rates would allow businesses to plan five and 10 years in advance, and that's how you build an economy."

Meanwhile, in a series of interviews. Rep. Michele Bachmann lashed out at the president, calling some of the remarks Obama made defending the plan "flat out lies" and suggesting that Republicans might not "necessarily go along with" it, particularly because of the provision that would extend benefits to the unemployed.

With Republicans about to take the reins of power in the House of Representatives, President Obama already has his work cut out for him. But even if the tax plan makes its way out of Congress and to the president's desk before the end of the year, the administration likely will find their bargaining position with members of its own party weakened.

Comments like Rep. Weiner's point to a troubling reality for the Obama White House: Not only are fellow Democrats unhappy with the substance of the tax plan, they also seem more willing publicly to challenge the effectiveness of the president's leadership. It is a line of attack that could prove damaging heading into the next election cycle.

It's not just members of Congress who have put Obama in an uncomfortable middle position in the debate over tax cuts. Groups on the right and left of the political spectrum also have been lining up to oppose the proposal.

The head of the conservative Club for Growth, Chris Chocola, called the plan "a bad deal for the American people" this week, complaining that it would "resurrect the death tax, grow government [and] blow a hole in the deficit with unpaid-for spending."

Another conservative leader, Brent Bozell, chairman of the group ForAmerica, urged lawmakers not to trust a deal that, in his words, "was brokered behind closed doors."

"No deal is better than a bad deal," Bozell said. "The Republicans will be in a much stronger position in just a few weeks when they can revisit this and get a better deal for the American people."

Increasingly, groups to the left of Obama are questioning the president's resolve.

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and a leading progressive critic of the administration, accused Obama of "undercutting his 'yes we can' mantra," and acceding to GOP demands without putting up a fight.

"He telegraphed his willingness to cave from the start by solely talking about 'compromise' and never talking about holding Republicans accountable to their constituents if they opposed him," Green said. "He has zero standing to say he tried to persuade Senate Republicans and zero standing to ask millions of his former supporters to support an incompetently negotiated deal."

Supporters of Green's group, as well as other left-leaning advocacy organizations like MoveOn and Democracy For America, led a charge this week to persuade members of Congress to sign on to a letter spearheaded by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., urging fellow lawmakers to oppose the tax deal.

The White House has not taken these knocks lying down. It has launched an aggressive persuasion campaign of its own, unveiling endorsements from more than three dozen senators, governors and even mayors. Administration officials, including economic advisers Larry Summers and Austan Goolsbee, have been deployed to "educate" the public and reluctant members of Congress on the plan.

Now, Democratic leaders want to go back to the drawing board.

"We will continue discussions with the president and our Democratic and Republican colleagues in the days ahead to improve the proposal before it comes to the House floor for a vote," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Thursday.

Once again, White House officials are negotiating a precarious middle ground.

"If everybody took out what they didn't like," press secretary Robert Gibbs said on Thursday, "we would have nothing. And we know the consequences of doing nothing."