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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
As President Obama begins his second term, he's hoping that some of the campaign tools that helped him win re-election will also help to deliver a policy win in the fight over federal taxes. Mr. Obama wants the U.S. Congress to extend Bush-era tax cuts for most Americans while allowing taxes to go up for the wealthiest 2 percent.
So the president and his aides are using email, social media, and beyond the Beltway campaign appearances in hopes of putting some pressure on Republican lawmakers. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Inside the Capitol, the old battle lines barely seem to have budged. Republicans resist higher taxes. Democrats resist cuts to entitlement programs. GOP House speaker John Boehner emerged from his office yesterday to tell reporters budget talks with the White House were going nowhere.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Well, there's a stalemate. Let's not kid ourselves.
HORSLEY: Boehner sounded shocked by what Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had spelled out the day before as Mr. Obama's opening bid: an extra $1.6 trillion in tax revenue over the next decade. What's more, Mr. Obama insists much of the money come from higher income tax rates on the rich, which Boehner says is the wrong way to go about it.
BOEHNER: I mean, it was not a serious proposal.
HORSLEY: With the talks in Washington apparently coming apart, the president made a quick getaway outside the capital, to a place where people still know how to put things together.
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HORSLEY: Mr. Obama visited the K'NEX toy factory outside Philadelphia, where workers produce a kind of updated Tinker Toys - with bright plastic pieces that can be molded into roller coasters, steam shovels, or even an American flag. The president described the factory workers as Santa's extra elves.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They manufacture almost 3,000 K'NEX pieces every minute. And every box that ends up on store shelves in 30 countries is stamped made in America. And that's something to be proud of.
HORSLEY: This kind of factory visit was a staple of Mr. Obama's re-election campaign. And he noted yesterday, so was his call for higher taxes on the wealthy.
OBAMA: We had debates about it. There were a lot of TV commercials about it. And at the end of the day, a clear majority of Americans - Democrats, Republicans, Independents - they agreed with a balanced approach.
HORSLEY: Congressional Republicans acknowledged after the election that tax revenues have to go up, but they've yet to see eye to eye with the president about how much extra tax money should be raised or where it should come from.
Adding urgency to this debate is a New Year's deadline. Unless the two sides cut a deal by then, taxes for everyone will go up automatically. Mr. Obama warns that would cost a typical middle-class family about $2,200 dollars next year.
OBAMA: That's less money to buy gas, less money to buy groceries. In some cases it means tougher choices between paying the rent and saving for college. It means less money to buy more K'NEX.
HORSLEY: Michael Araten, the CEO of the toy company and a Democrat, says he'd rather see his own tax rate go up by a few percentage points than drag the whole economy down. Araten expects eventually lawmakers and the president will make a deal, but probably not before it comes down to the wire.
MICHAEL ARATEN: I think if you watch the stock market, it will be a good day and a bad day, and a good day and a bad day until they're done. But at the end of the day they're going to get done because I think they recognize it is too important for the American economy. And that the American people are watching. And when the American people watch, usually our leaders in Washington pay attention.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama wants to make sure people do more than just watch. He's activated his campaign email list, and is urging people to use Facebook, Twitter, or plain old phone calls to contact their lawmakers and demand an extension of tax cuts for the middle class.
OBAMA: I need you to remind members of Congress - Democrats and Republicans - to not get bogged down in a bunch of partisan bickering. But let's go ahead and focus on the people who sent us to Washington and make sure that we're doing the right thing by them.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama knows he'll have a better chance of winning higher tax rates for the wealthy if he can first disconnect those rates from the ones that middle class families pay. Republican lawmakers know that too, which is why they're fighting hard to keep the two tied together.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.