WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing sagging jobs numbers, President Barack Obama sought to recast the November election as a fight over tax fairness on Monday, urging tax cut extensions for all families earning less than $250,000 but denying them to households making more than that.
The president’s pitch was aimed at painting Republican rival Mitt Romney as a protector of the rich at a time of economic unease, as Democrats intensify efforts to raise questions about the Romney’s own wealth and offshore bank accounts.
Romney supports extending the federal tax cuts, first signed by George W. Bush, for all income earners.
Obama said if Congress passes a one-year extension for those making less than $250,000, voters can use the November election to decide the fate of the cuts for higher income earners.
“My opponent will fight to keep them in place. I will fight to end them,” said Obama, flanked by a dozen people the White House said would benefit from the tax cut extension.
The president has long supported ending the Bush-era tax cuts for those making more than $250,000. The White House and the president’s re-election team are reviving his arguments now as a way to suggest that the push by Romney and congressional Republicans for an across-the-board extension of the tax cuts could put America’s middle class at risk.
“Let’s not hold the vast majority of Americans and our economy hostage while we debate the merits of another tax cut for the wealthy,” Obama said at the White House.
The president’s sudden focus on the tax fairness debate was also an attempt to change the election subject after yet another lackluster jobs report. New numbers released Friday showed the nation’s unemployment rate stuck at 8.2 percent, giving Romney fresh grounds to attack Obama as unfit to steer the U.S. economy.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the president was responding to the bad economic news by calling for a “massive tax increase.”
“It just proves again that the president doesn’t have a clue how to get America working again and help the middle class,” Saul said.
Obama said his proposal was aimed at staving off an end-of-the year stalemate with Congress. But it appeared to have the opposite effect.
Congressional Republicans immediately balked, saying it would be a mistake to raise taxes on anyone while the economy was still struggling to recover. The House GOP plans to make its own push this summer for a full extension of the tax cuts.
Obama said later Monday that he would veto such a bill if it landed on his desk.
Ahead of Obama’s remarks on Monday, White House officials consulted with congressional Democrats to shore up support within the party. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of his party’s Senate leadership, had both previously advocated extending the cuts to those who make up to $1 million annually, but on Monday they stood in solidarity with the president.
Obama angered many fellow Democrats in 2010 when he signed off on a full extension of the Bush tax cuts, in part to win concessions from Republicans on other legislation.