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Tax Cut Deal Cast as Moral Issue by Both Sides

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A week after President Obama unveiled the massive tax deal he cut with congressional Republican leaders, rank-and-file members of Congress from both parties reluctantly put aside their complaints to pass the measure with bipartisan support.

The bill's success, however, didn't come without a fight. Many House Democrats voiced strong opposition to the deal and ultimately voted against it. The deal extends the Bush tax cuts for two years, extends unemployment insurance for 13 months, cuts the payroll tax for one year, and sets the estate tax at a relatively low rate and high threshold, among other things.

"I simply don't believe that someone who makes $1 million should get a $116,000 tax cut for Christmas," Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), one of the deal's most vocal opponents, said on CBS' "The Early Show" this morning. "Today in America, the top 1 percent of the country makes as much as the next 25 percent. We need to stand up for the middle class. I think the very well-to-do have already had their piece."

Like Weiner, most Democrats framed their opposition to the deal as a matter of moral principle. Several other lawmarkers, pundits and political operatives -- on both sides of the issue -- have also taken that tack.

Ed Morrissey of the conservative blog Hot Air argues that the deal is popular among lawmakers and the public because "what mattered to Americans in the midterm elections was a Congress that quit taking more and more money out of their pockets instead of curtailing spending."

The Washington Post's business columnist Steven Pearlstein concurs, arguing that "for Republicans, it's also a moral issue, looked at through a much different lens. For them, the focus isn't on the fairness of income distribution but the fairness of the system that produces it. And part of that calculation involves how much of a person's hard-earned income government takes away."

He argues that the Democrats' ultimate acquiescence to the plan represents a shift in that moral viewpoint among Democrats.

"What they are only now coming to recognize is that people's views on fairness can be complex and don't always point in the same policy direction," Pearlstein writes.

Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, blasted the president in an op-ed for questioning the motives of those who opposed the deal.

"Rather than explaining the economic benefits of the bill and taking quiet credit for a moment of bipartisanship, Obama launched into an assault on partners and opponents," he writes. "Republicans are 'hostage-takers' who worship the 'Holy Grail' of trickle-down economics. Liberal opponents are 'sanctimonious,' preferring their own purity to the interests of the poor. The president did not just attack the policy positions of nearly everyone in the political class. He publicly questioned their motives."

Some activists and pundits on the left, meanwhile, are standing by their morality-based objections despite the deal's passage.

Labor leader Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, sent an e-mail message to his supporters last night blasting Republicans for the concessions they demanded in the package -- and threatening to take action against them if they take further steps that anger liberals.

"This is a huge relief for the more than 1.4 million long-term job seekers. But this deal comes at a terrible price: It rewards obstructionists with huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires," Trumka wrote. "Senate Republicans have shown themselves to be morally bankrupt hypocrites. They capitalized on the hardships of our country's most vulnerable people to extract tax cuts for their rich friends, like the top executives of Goldman Sachs."

Trumka urged his supporters to sign up for text message alerts that would be sent out "when deficit hypocrites try to defraud the middle class by launching attacks on our Social Security, Medicare and more in 2011."

Prominent liberal analyst Taylor Marsh took Democrats to task for what she cast as giving up on their principles.

"There is no shame in losing a fight well engaged. But there is great embarrassment when you sell your soul when you know what you're doing is wrong and goes against everything you believe in," she wrote. "The Tea Party came down hard on the Republican establishment, so they blinked, but as a bonus so did Pres. Obama and the Democrats, which is what happened even with a majority. The Right won't be so stupid or weak."



Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.