From NBC's Athena Jones
Capping off a two-week long sales effort, President Barack Obama signed a tax bill Friday that he said would help spur economic growth and create jobs.
The bill, which passed the House of Representatives last night by a vote of 277 to 148, would keep in place Bush-era tax rates for all income levels for two years and would extend unemployment insurance benefits for 13 months, along with other tax credits.
The deal was reached with Republicans last week and overcame an uphill battle in the House, where Democrats were angry about the extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy and the low estate tax rate included in the bill.
Both the president and Vice President Joe Biden, who introduced him, stressed that the legislation was a bipartisan accomplishment and thanked members of both parties who played a role in getting it passed.
"This package is a result of leaders of both sides coming together to act on behalf of the American people at a time that they needed it most," Biden said. He praised Sen. Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders for being "willing to take issue with some of their own party and to do what was in their view necessary in order to move the country forward."
The White House believes the new law will help accelerate a sluggish economic recovery and jump-start much-needed job creation, citing new estimates from economists who say it could add 500,000 to 1.5 million jobs.
The deal was popular with the public. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed 59% of respondents approved of the deal and the plan won support from 54% of Democrats, 60% of Independents and 68% of Republicans.
"Putting more money in the pockets of families most likely to spend it, helping businesses invest and grow, that's how we're going to spark demand, spur hiring and strengthen our economy in the new year," Obama said, adding there were elements of the bill that he and members of both parties did not like. "That's the nature of compromise: yielding on something each of us cares about to move forward on what all of us care about and right now what all of us care about is growing the American economy and creating jobs for the American people."
While Obama says the tax deal a big win for the middle class -- some observers have called it the White House's biggest win since health care -- reaching this compromise with Republicans required the president to step away from a campaign promise to end the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
Many on the left believe the president caved on that issue, but the president has vowed to fight to end the cuts when they expire again in two years. The White House has tried to keep the focus on what middle class families gained in this bill, from the extension for jobless benefits, to the yearlong payroll tax holiday, to help for families paying for college.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Budget Director Lew and Chairman of Council of Economic Advisers Goolsbee joined a dozen members of Congress on hand for the signing. The group included four Republicans -- Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, Michigan Reps. Dave Camp and Dave Reichert and Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy. Neither the incoming Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH), not the outgoing Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) attended the event.
In speaking with reporters at a gaggle this morning, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the deal exceeded "virtually everybody's expectations" of what it would do for the middle class.
"It's a very good agreement for the people that Democrats care most about," Gibbs said. "We've been very out front in the fact that we got a better deal on this than the other side did. There's more in it from a monetary standpoint of the things that we wanted."
The victory comes as Congress is rushing to wrap up the year and head home for the holidays. Among the issues that could still be considered this year in the Senate are the new START arms control treaty with Russia, the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, the Dream Act, the 911 first responders bill and a continuing resolution to fund the government.