Elections 2012: Obama Challenges Republicans to Keep Tax Cuts for Middle Class

President Barack Obama on Monday called on Congress to pass a one-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class, but not wealthier Americans.

President Barack delivers a statement on the need for Congress to act to extend tax cuts for middle class families, in the East Room of the White House, July 9, 2012. Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

President Obama called on Monday for a one-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 a year, seeking to steer the election-year debate away from high unemployment and portray himself as a champion of ordinary Americans, reports Reuters.

“Pass a bill extending the tax cuts for the middle class, I will sign it tomorrow,” Obama said during remarks at the White House. “Pass it next week, I’ll sign it next week.”

However, the tax proposal is unlikely to sway Obama’s Republican opponents in Congress, who argue that the cuts should be maintained for everyone, including higher earners.

The president said both sides agree on the need to keep tax rates down for middle income groups at least.

“Let’s not hold the vast majority of Americans and our entire economy hostage while we debate the merits of another tax cut for the wealthy,” Obama said. “We can have that debate, but let’s not hold up working on the thing that we already agree on.”

“We can’t afford to keep that up, not right now,” Obama said. “I just believe that anybody making over $250,000 should go back to the income tax rates we were paying under Bill Clinton.”

The tax cuts enacted by Republican President George W. Bush will expire on January 1 without congressional action, increasing fears that the United States will go over a so-called fiscal cliff as deep public spending cuts also kick in.

President Obama framed the issue of keeping tax cuts for the wealthy as a key difference between him and Mitt Romney, according to The Huff Post.

“My opponent will fight to keep them in place. I will fight to end them,” the president said.

“The money we’re spending on these tax cuts for the wealthy is a major contributor to our deficit,” said Obama.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney quickly responded that Obama’s move would mean a tax hike for millions of Americans, including small-business owners crucial to the future of the US economy.

“Unlike President Obama, Governor Romney understands that the last thing we need to do in this economy is to raise taxes on anyone,” said Romney campaign aide Andrea Saul in a statement. “It just proves again that the president doesn’t have a clue how to get America working again and help the middle class.”

Meanwhile, Republicans were dismissing the president’s call before he even made his remarks.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the House will vote in the last week of July to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for everybody.

“Small businesses who are struggling to make payroll and working families who have tightened their belts to meet their budgets cannot afford to be hit with a massive tax increase come January,” Cantor said in a statement.

“What we ought to be doing is extend the current tax rates for another year with a hard requirement to get through comprehensive tax reform one more time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on Monday that he’s ready to move forward with legislation to do exactly what the president wants.

“I will be discussing the next steps in the Senate with my caucus in the coming days,” Reid said in a statement.

“Republicans have claimed they want to reduce our deficit; in the weeks ahead, they will have a chance to do so by joining Democrats to vote to extend tax cuts for all middle class American families on the first $250,000 of their income,” said Reid.

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