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Unhappy With Tax Compromise, George Stephanopoulos Scolds David Axelrod from the Left

Apparently unhappy at the idea of a compromise with Republicans over taxes, Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday attacked the deal from the left, wondering if the "White House [is] open to renegotiating" portions that have made liberals in Congress unhappy.

Stephanopoulos, a former aide to Democrat Dick Gephardt, highlighted Nancy Pelosi's opposition to a high exemption for the returning estate tax. The host negotiated with White House advisor David Axelrod, prodding, "So, is this deal set in stone? No wiggle room at all? No more adjustments as it works its way through the House and the Senate?"

He lamented, "You have got a lot of unhappy Democrats in the House right now. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not committed to trying to pass this deal." Stephanopoulos went on to repeat a threat from the angriest leftists: "A lot of liberal commentators and activists are now starting to call for a primary challenge in the Democratic primaries to President Obama. Is that something that concerns you?"

The ABC journalist's questions about the compromise, which keeps current tax rates at the same level in return for continuing unemployment benefits, uniformly represented liberal complaints. On Tuesday night, Republican Senator Jim DeMint announced he doesn't support the deal because it doesn't extend the Bush tax cuts long enough and it raises the estate tax.

Stephanopoulos never forced Axelrod to answer to this critique. However, when he interviewed Senator John McCain on November 30, he pushed the Republican to move towards the Democrat, "Are you prepared to move the President's way for any items on his agenda?"

A transcript of the December 8 segment, which aired at 7:15am EST, follows:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And for the White House response to this Democratic revolt, we're joined by David Axelrod from the White House this morning. Good morning, David.

DAVID AXELROD: Good morning, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS (Senior White House advisor): Let's begin where Jake left off. You have got a lot of unhappy Democrats in the House right now. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not committed to trying to pass this deal. Can you pass it over the opposition of the Speaker of the House and if Democrats aren't going to sign on?

ABC GRAPHIC: Democratic Rebellion: Obama Gets Tough With Both Sides

AXELROD: First of all, let's see how this plays out, George. You're right. There are people that are unhappy. That always happens with a compromise. And there's things in this that we distinctly don't like. But I tell you who will be unhappy most of all, is the American people if they wake up on January 1st, typical family with a $3,000 tax increase because we couldn't come to closure on this issue here. And I think when people focus on that and on the impact this package will have on the economy, the positive impact. You saw yesterday all of the economists upgrading their estimates for next year, based on this tax package and the jobs that it would generate, I think people will come around on this. And we'll get this done.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The provision that seems to be drawing the most fire, is the provision to reinstate the estate tax, but at much higher income levels. An $10 million exception. It's only going to affect the top one quarter of one percent of Americans. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this is "a bridge too far. It ends any kind of symmetry between the two sides." Is the White House open to renegotiating this part of the deal?

AXELROD: Well, look, first of all, understand that we find that objectionable, as well. When those provisions expire, we'll have a big debate in this country. And we intend to win that debate. But we're not going to play Russian roulette with the lives of the American people, with all the millions of people who are going to lose their unemployment insurance, right now, without this deal going forward. We ought to get this done.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, is this deal set in stone? No wiggle room at all? No more adjustments as it works its way through the House and the Senate?

AXELROD: Look, I think the framework of the deal is in place. Obviously, compromise means compromise. That means that each side accepts things they don't want. The Republicans essentially traded away everything in the package for tax cuts for the wealthy temporarily and this more generous treatment of estates. We don't like it. But, what we got in exchange were significant tax relief for the middle class and extension of unemployment insurance for people who have lost their jobs in this down economy. And that's going to- together, that's going to give a tremendous boost to our economy. So, the exchange is good. We ought to be willing to make it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The payroll tax cut is only one year. That means that a lot of workers are going to see their taxes go up as the President is heading into an election year. Will he oppose any attempt to extend that payroll tax cut another year?

AXELROD: George, you want to lead me into a debate a year from now. I'm trying to get through this one. The reason that that is front-loaded is because it will give maximum impact to our economy. Economists agree a payroll tax cut will have a tremendously positive impact in terms of economic activity and job creation. And that's why we wanted to do it now because now is when the economy needs the maximum jolt.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of liberal commentators and activists are now starting to call for a primary challenge in the Democratic primaries to President Obama. Is that something that concerns you?

AXELROD: Look, what I'm concerned about, and what the President is concerned about is the well-being of hundreds of millions of Americans. And we don't want taxes to go up on January 1st. We don't want people thrown off of unemployment insurance while they're desperately looking for work. And we want to get this economy moving. We want to create jobs. That is our focus.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, David Axelrod, thanks very much.

-Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.