June 19, 2013
Obama challenges GOP to keep tax cuts for middle class
US President Barack 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 US citizens.
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.
Obama 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 at the White House, standing in front of a riser filled with people who he said would be hurt if their tax cuts were not extended.
"We can have that debate, but let's not hold up working on the thing that we already agree on."
Whether it gains traction or not, the Democratic incumbent's appeal achieves several goals as the campaign heats up ahead of the November 6 general election.
It shifts the conversation - at least for a day - from last week's meager jobs report and his handling of the economy to "tax fairness" and inequality.
It burnishes Obama's message of being the candidate who backs the middle class while Republicans and their presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, are out of touch with ordinary people and favor the wealthy.
Democrats have hit that message hard in recent days as they call on Romney to release more tax returns and give details of holdings in foreign tax havens like Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland.
Obama's tax announcement also sets a baseline for what is likely to be a months-long debate about deficit reduction in the campaign. Polls show the economy is the issue that worries voters most, and that Obama and Romney are running a close race.