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Obama to GOP: Don't 'screw up' tax talks

2:12 PM, Nov 28, 2012   |    comments
President Obama(Photo: Carolyn Kaster, AP)
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It's a new kind of campaign for President Obama.

Rather than persuade independent voters -- as he did during his 2012 re-election campaign -- Obama now seeks to pressure congressional Republicans into backing a debt reduction plan that includes higher taxes on the nation's wealthiest.

To that end, Obama spoke Wednesday with an invited group of Americans who would see their taxes go up if the White House and congressional Republicans are unable to strike a deal before the end of the year.

"Let's approach this problem with the middle class in mind," Obama said, with some of his invited guests arrayed behind him.

"It's too important for Washington to screw this up," Obama later added. "If we get this wrong, the economy is going to go south."

Obama and Congress are looking to head off the so-called fiscal cliff, a series of tax hikes and budget cuts that kick in next year if the parties can't reach an agreement.

One key to a deal: George W. Bush-era tax cuts. Obama wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, but eliminate them for filers who make more than $250,000 a year; Republicans oppose any increase in tax rates, saying they will stunt economic growth.

Noting that both parties agree on extending tax cuts for the middle class, Obama called on Congress for an immediate agreement on that issue while they negotiate the rest of an overall agreement. That would require the assent of "a few House Republicans," Obama said, adding that "I've got a pen -- I'm ready to sign it."

As for an overall debt reduction deal, the president again advocated a "balanced" approach that includes higher taxes on the wealthy and budget cuts.

"My hope is to get this done by Christmas," the president said.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Republicans want to work with Obama, but said the president has spent more time talking about tax hikes than spending cuts. Boehner said the GOP is willing to increase government revenues, but through the elimination of tax breaks rather that raising tax rates.

"Republicans are willing to put revenue on the table, but it's time for the president and Democrats to get serious about the spending problem that our country has," Boehner said.

After Obama's speech, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said: "The president say he wants a so-called balanced approach, but we never hear about the spending cuts he's prepared to make. Where are the cuts?"

In promoting the White House plan, Obama and aides have begun a public relations campaign that takes many forms.

On Monday, the administration issued a report on the economic impact of the fiscal cliff, including average tax hikes of $2,200 for a family of four, the kinds of people invited to the White House on Wednesday.

The White House guests were selected from among those who responded to an e-mail from senior adviser David Plouffe, asking supporters to submit "why you think it's important to keep taxes from going up on the middle class."

The president is also scheduled to meet later Wednesday with business executives, including some who backed Republican Mitt Romney in the recent presidential election.

On Friday, Obama visits the kind of business that would see its sales drop if the government falls off the fiscal cliff: A toy factory near Philadelphia.

The White House is also trying to drum up support through social media, including the new Twitter hashtag "My2K."

Communications aides also tweeted out quotes from Obama's speech on the fiscal cliff.

During that speech, Obama urge backers to tweet, e-mail, Facebook, and otherwise lobby Republicans -- "do what it takes to communicate a sense of urgency" about the fiscal cliff.

"If there's one thing I've learned," he said. "it's that when the American people speak loudly enough, Congress listens."

These events take place amid rising concern that the parties will be unable to reach an agreement, and the economy will face the sudden shock of automatic tax hikes and budget cuts.

"I think the probability is we're going over the cliff," said Erskine Bowles, the former co-chairman of President Obama's debt commission.

Boehner, meanwhile, expressed optimism, but added: "You're not going to grow the economy if you raise tax rates on the top two rates. We're willing to put revenue on the table, as long as we're not raising rates."

GOP officials are also deriding Obama's campaign effort, saying he should be using the time to negotiate.

"Every week he spends campaigning for his ideas is a week that we're not solving the problem," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

USA Today

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