President Obama Reaches Out To Middle Class
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President Obama took his economic message outside the Beltway earlier this afternoon - but just barely. In a leafy, Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., he argued that Congress should extend the Bush-era tax cuts for most Americans. But he said taxes should be allowed to rise next year for the wealthiest 2 percent. The tax cuts are a contentious issue this week as Congress returns to work in the politically charged run-up to the November elections.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Speaking to a few dozen neighbors on lawn chairs and picnic benches outside a Fairfax, Virginia, home, Mr. Obama said Congress is in agreement over 98 percent of the tax cuts. He said lawmakers from both parties want to extend the cuts for families making less than a quarter-million dollars a year.
BARACK OBAMA: We could get that done this week. But we're still in this wrestling match with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell about the last 2 to 3 percent where on average, we'd be giving them a hundred thousand dollars for people making a million dollars or more.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama has accused Republicans of holding middle-class tax cuts hostage to win an extension for the wealthiest families. Polls consistently show most Americans favor higher taxes on the rich. And over the weekend, House Republican leader John Boehner appeared to be giving ground, telling CBS he'd be willing to consider the middle-class tax cuts separately.
JOHN BOEHNER: If the only option I have is to vote for those at 250 and below, of course I'm going to do that.
HORSLEY: But this wrestling match is a tag team. And the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, quickly shot down that idea. Republican congressman Eric Cantor says all the tax cuts should be extended. And Boehner made it clear on CBS that would be his preference as well.
BOEHNER: Get rid of some of the uncertainty that's out there so that small businesses can plan and reinvest in their business and the new economy.
HORSLEY: Republicans argue some of those who'd be hit by higher taxes would be small business owners who might be less likely to hire. Mr. Obama counters if Republicans want to help small businesses, they should pass the targeted package of small-business tax cuts and lending incentives he's been pushing for months.
The president noted that under his plan, even the wealthiest families would get some tax relief, since tax rates would not go up on their first quarter-million dollars of income.
OBAMA: After that, you'd go back to the rates that were in place when Bill Clinton was president - which, I just want to remind everybody, at that time, we had 22 million jobs created, much faster income and wage growth. The economy was humming pretty good.
HORSLEY: The president said he hoped after the midterm election, Republicans and Democrats would spend less time attacking each other. But the attacks are likely to be heavy during the next seven weeks.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.