Republicans "believe that we should also make permanent the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. I completely disagree with this. A permanent extension of these tax cuts would cost us $700 billion at a time when we need to start focusing on bringing down our deficit. And economists from all across the political spectrum agree that giving tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires does very little to actually grow our economy," Obama said on Dec. 6, as the debate was ramping up.
In the end, Obama and Republicans compromised. Obama signed a two-year extension of all the tax cuts; Republicans approved an unemployment-insurance extension and a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
What did the public think of all this?
On the tax cuts, poll respondents sided clearly with Obama. While the public widely supported lower-income tax cuts and, by extension, the whole tax-cut compromise, a Dec. 17-19 CNN poll found that 62 percent opposed the higher-income tax cuts and 37 percent supported them.
Over the summer, Obama and House Speaker John Boehner resumed their tax loggerheads, as the national default deadline of Aug. 2 approached. Boehner and Republicans demanded a serious plan to reduce the deficit. Obama's solution: spending cuts accompanied by taxes on the rich.
"If we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we've got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship," Obama said during a press conference on Jone 29. "That means we've got to stop funding certain grants for medical research. That means that food safety may be compromised. That means that Medicare has to bear a greater part of the burden. Those are the choices we have to make."
Once again, the public took Obama's side, preferring to tax the rich before making deeper entitlement cuts like the near-voucherization of Medicare offered up by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The public disliked taxes in general, polls found, suggesting Boehner and Republicans were on the right track. But on the specifics of upper-income taxes, Obama had public sentiment on his side.
After Obama and Republicans reached a deal, poll respondents said they would rather have followed the president's plan. In an Aug. 4-7 USA Today/Gallup poll, 66 percent favored raising taxes on higher incomes. Respondents opposed cuts to defense spending and entitlement programs. In an Aug. 5-7 CNN poll, 62 percent said taxes on wealthy people should be kept high so government can use the revenue to help people with lower incomes, while 34 percent sided with the GOP argument that taxes on wealthy people should be kept low because their spending and investment helps create jobs.