The biggest problem with the White House’s definitional strategy on the American Jobs Act was that Democrats didn’t really give it the full-throated support it needed to draw that contrast. By the end of last week, the White House was circling the wagons on that, and Democratic leaders stepped out to say that the jobs plan would have the support of the caucus. But those initial grumblings really hurt the unified message.

Are we on the way toward the same problem with the deficit reduction plan delivered today, similarly designed to draw contrast between taxes on millionaires or cuts to vital programs? So far, this looks a bit better.

Nancy Pelosi’s statement was pretty strong in support, which you would expect. “By calling for reforms that will ensure that all Americans contribute their fair share, and by strengthening Medicare, the President is ensuring that we aren’t balancing our budget on the backs of the middle class and seniors,” she said.

Progressive Caucus co-chairs Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison managed to stay roughly in support as well, while also keeping their eyes on the important details of the needs for Medicare and Medicaid.

As co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, we congratulate President Obama on many of his proposals to cut our deficits and balance our national budget. The president’s determination to reduce the large national debt that he inherited after years of costly wars, unchecked defense spending, corporate welfare and giveaways to the wealthy few is admirable. We stand with the President in his efforts to end these costly wars and tax breaks while protecting working and middle class Americans. We will continue to stand with the President against failed Republican tax and domestic policies, which have led to nearly one in five Americans living in poverty while the rich get richer.

While we support cutting waste, fraud and abuse, we reject any proposal that cuts benefits in Medicare or Medicaid. We reject false Republican assertions that the solution to our deficit is deep cuts to programs that millions of Americans rely on, and we would hope President Obama would as well. We have fought tirelessly to stop Republican efforts to sell off and privatize our nation’s retirement security. Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid represent a serious threat to our society and are highly unpopular with the American people. Every dime taken away from beneficiaries in these programs is a dime the recipients don’t have to spend in our economy.

If we let wealthy Americans and corporations pay taxes at the rate they used to and focus our attentions to put Americans back to work, we will solve our deficit crisis. Now is not the time to cut Medicare and Medicaid.

The statement from Daniel Mintz of MoveOn revealed the major stakes here.

“Our nation now has a clear choice between the two parties: On one side, you have the President asking millionaires to pay their fair share so we can create jobs. On the other side, you have Tea Party-led Republicans in Congress seeking to end Medicare as we know it so they can protect outrageous tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. In short, the president wants to tax billionaires to create jobs. The Republicans want to end Medicare to protect billionaires.”

This misses some nuance, but since there’s no nuance on the other side – they’ve taken any revenue increases off the table – I find this to be an accurate description of the choice. The economy is sick right now and needs as much short-term aid as possible. And the tax system is imbalanced against the poor and in service to the rich, which exacerbates income inequality which inevitably accompanies recessions and financial crises.

One side of the debate has come around — at a late hour but has come around — to a policy of delivering short-term aid while reducing that tax unfairness. The other side has a polar opposite view. And as much as this is a practical issue of what the economy needs, it’s also a values issue about where politicians stand. The view of standing with the middle class over the powerful happens to be very popular.

According to a CNN/ORC International Poll conducted last month, 63 percent of the public said they were OK with any deficit reduction bill passed by Congress that included increased taxes on higher-income Americans and businesses, with 36 percent opposed to the idea. The national survey also indicated a wide partisan divide, with eight in ten Democrats supporting an increase in taxes and six in ten Republicans opposed. Sixty-two percent of independent voters supported boosting taxes on higher-income Americans and businesses, with 37 percent opposed.

The CNN/ORC poll was conducted in early August, right after the congressional agreement to create a bipartisan “super committee” to lower the nation’s massive budget deficit. While the survey is six weeks old, there have been few intervening events since then to dramatically alter opinions on the issue.

In a conference call with reporters today, Chuck Schumer not only praised the concept of the Buffett rule, the sort of “millionaire’s minimum tax” to replace the AMT, he signaled a willingness to put it into legislation and force Republicans to vote against it. That’s not necessarily a policy initiative but a simple theme that will be recounted over and over again until next November.

David Dayen

David Dayen