Obama willing to fight the left if needed-White House

Fri Dec 17, 2010 4:08pm EST

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* Obama will fight left if needed - White House

* Progressives never came up with alternative to tax pact

By Alister Bull

WASHINGTON, Dec 17 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will not duck a fight with his liberal base to advance policies he thinks make sense, the White House said on Friday, after passage of a tax bill that enraged the left wing of his party.

Acknowledging a new political reality after Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives on election day, the White House gave no sign he now feels he must mend fences with progressives. Rather, many see Obama taking a more centrist approach.

"In terms of patching things up, I think that this is a president who is going to make decisions on what is best for the country, what is best for the economy," Gibbs told reporters at the White House. "And that's going to mean that there will be times at which we will draw the line and we will have big fights on this."

Gibbs did, however, voice cautious optimism that a ban on gays serving openly in military will be repealed, meeting a goal many on the left have sought for years and that Obama has pushed Congress hard to end.

The president was also meeting labor leaders on Friday to discuss spurring the fragile U.S. economy. The labor movement, which has voiced concern over the tax deal, was a core part of the constituency that helped him win the White House in 2008.

A Gallop poll showed on Thursday that Obama's popularity among liberal Democrats has taken a hit since he brokered the tax-extension pact with Republicans. Although still high, it dipped below 80 percent for the first time in the week after the deal was cut, standing at 79 percent from 88 percent in late October.

Obama will need as much congressional help as possible next year as he confronts Republicans over spending cuts and the tax code to tackle the U.S. budget deficit and rising debts.

RICH TAX BREAKS

Many liberals are livid after Congress approved the two-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts, as well as hard-won concessions on unemployment benefits and aid for students and families that Democrats had sought.

"This bill is largely a mish-mash of rejected Republican ideas that cost too much to accomplish too little," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, echoing many in his Democratic party who are angry over the extension of tax breaks for wealthier Americans.

Obama had wanted taxes on U.S. families making more than $250,000 to rise next year. But Democrats had been unable to get that through Congress and the White House said it had obtained the best deal it could with the votes in hand.

This did not mollify progressive public advocacy group MoveOn.Org, which is running a You Tube advertisement to "bring back the Obama of 2008 - the tough, smart progressive who inspired millions." The group called the package a millionaire tax bailout.

Gibbs noted the bill was passed by a massive majority in the Senate and supported by many Democrats in the House.

He said the liberal left had never explained an alternative way to preserve the extension of jobless benefits and other aid to students and families that Obama secured through his pact with Republicans.

"What was the alternative path here? So we do this for three-and-a-half weeks. Everyone's taxes go up. Everybody then consequently gets blamed -- rightly so -- by the American people," Gibbs said. (Additional reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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