President Obama today entreated the American people to press Congress to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all but the highest earners, insisting that public pressure could make all the difference in negotiations.
"When the American people speak loudly enough, lo and behold, Congress listens," Mr. Obama said from the White House, with middle-class Americans standing behind him. He noted that a typical middle class family of four would see its taxes rise by $2,200 if Congress doesn't extend the current tax rates for most Americans before the year is up.
"Tell members of Congress what a $2,000 tax hike would mean to you," the president said. "Call your members of Congress. Write them an e-mail. Post it on their Facebook walls. You can Tweet it."
The White House has used public campaigns like this before to lobby Congress during tough negotiations. In April, the White House urged Twitter users to employ the hashtag #dontdoublemyrate to send the message that they wanted student loan interest rates to stay low.
Now, Mr. Obama isof the presidency to pressure Congress to extend the tax cuts for income under $250,000. That would leave the 2 percent of Americans who earn more than $250,000 still facing a tax hike when the Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of the year.
Polls show that the public supports Mr. Obama's plan, which he campaigned on against Mitt Romney: 60 percent of Americans in a new Washington Post/ ABC News poll support raising taxes on incomes more than $250,000 a year.
Negotiations over the tax cuts are part of the so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations under way between Congress and the White House. The "fiscal cliff" refers to a series of tax increases and spending cuts slated to go into effect on January 2, which could potentially send the U.S. into another recession. Along with the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, it includes the expiration of the payroll tax holiday that Mr. Obama instituted. Around $1.2 trillion in cuts to both defense and non-defense programs are also set to kick in on January 2 unless Washington acts.
Republicans. Some say they are willing to raise tax revenue by closing tax loopholes and deductions, as long as Democrats are willing to scale back spending in areas like Medicare and Medicaid.
"Our ultimate goal is an agreement that gets our long-term deficit under control in a way that is fair and balanced," Mr. Obama said today. "I believe that both parties can agree on a framework that does that in the coming weeks. But the place where we already have in theory at least complete agreement right now is on middle class taxes."
Mr. Obama is taking his message on the road this week: He is visiting a small business in Pennsylvania on Friday to drive home his point that protecting middle-class taxpayers and small business owners should be Washington's top priority.
Republicans have lambasted the president for using campaign-style tactics to pressure Congress on the issue, but Mr. Obama said today that "the voices of the American people have to be part of this debate."
He also insisted he is doing his part to work with Congress and influential parties: "I'm sitting down with CEOs, I'm sitting down with labor leaders," the president said. "I'm talking with leaders in Congress. I am able and willing and excited to go ahead and get this issue resolved in a bipartisan fashion."
Passing the middle class tax cut extension now, Mr. Obama said, "would give us more time next year to work together on a comprehensive plan to bring down our deficits."
Negotiations continue tomorrow, when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House legislative chief Rob Nabors will be on Capitol Hill Thursday for meetings with congressional leadership.
Today, top Republicans met with Erskine Bowles, President Clinton's former chief of staff and the former co-chairman of Mr. Obama's debt commission.
Bowles said he agrees with Republicans that there should be "substantive real entitlement reform."
"That has to be as much of a part of the discussion as taxes have been," he said. "I'm really worried that we have a real possibility that we could go off the cliff, and I think that that would be catastrophic. But not to go over the cliff, we're going to have to compromise, we're going to have to have revenue, we have to have spending cuts."