- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2012

In an attempt to change the subject from the dismal jobs market and cast GOP rival Mitt Romney as a champion of the rich, President Obama on Monday issued a new call for Congress to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class and allow rates to rise on wealthier income earners.

The president, in an address from the White House, called for a one-year extension of tax cuts for households making less than $250,000 a year.

Mr. Romney and Republicans in Congress would like to extend all the Bush tax cuts, set to expire at the end of the year for the middle class as well as higher earners, before they tackle a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code early next year.

“We should not raise taxes on the middle class and small businesses at a time when the recovery is still fragile,” Mr. Obama said, appearing in the East Room with families and workers who would benefit from the continued tax breaks. “That’s why I’m calling on Congress to extend the tax cuts for the 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 for another year.”

If Congress doesn’t extend the tax cuts, he said, millions of American families could see their taxes go up by $2,200 a year. “It would be a big blow to working families, and it would be a drag on our entire economy,” he said.

The White House is trying to force the GOP’s hand or face the consequences of appearing as if they are supporting the wealthy over middle-class Americans struggling in a bad economy. The HouseGOP is planning a vote later this month on a bill that would extend all of the Bush tax cuts, lay out details of their principles for tax reform and include expedited procedures for the consideration of a tax-code overhaul in 2013.

Mr. Romney supports the House Republican plan while Mr. Obama has repeatedly called for wealthy Americans to pay more in taxes.

“While I disagree on extending tax cuts for the wealthy because we just can’t afford them, we all say that we should extend tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people,” Mr. Obama said. “Let’s agree to do what we agree on, right?”

The Bush tax cuts — approved during the first term of George W. Bush and extended by Mr. Obama and Congress in 2010 — are due to expire at the end of the year. Economists worry that the tax cuts, combined with the automatic across-the-board spending cuts set to take place unless Congress finds offsets, would amount to a one-two punch to the already shaky U.S. economy.

The president’s renewed push follows Friday’s jobless numbers showing unemployment stagnant at 8.2 percent — a disappointing report that rattled the Obama campaign and gave Mr. Romney an opening to argue that he offers an alternative road map for the economy.

Outside observers view Mr. Obama’s Monday statement from the White House as a transparent attempt to change the subject from Friday’s sobering jobs report.

David Rohde, a professor of political science at Duke University, said presidents have a limited ability to affect the public’s thoughts on what issues are important, but Mr. Obama is doing what he can.

“Obama cannot make people forget that the economy is not recovering as quickly as they want, but he may be able to get them to think that other issues are also important,” he said. “Tax fairness is one of those additional issues. It is also an issue that can help him to motivate the Democratic base.”

The Romney campaign countered the president’s middle-class tax-extension photo op by pointing out that Mr. Obama’s proposal amounts to a “massive tax increase” and said it just proves that the president “doesn’t have a clue how to get America working again and help the middle class.”

“The president’s latest bad idea is to raise taxes on families, job creators and small business,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “Unlike President Obama, Gov. Romney understands that the last thing we need to do in this economy is to raise taxes on anyone.”

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