WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama expressed confidence Monday that he can win an election-year fight with Republicans over taxes and the economy despite three straight months of weak job growth.
Obama urged Congress to pass a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for most Americans, but aides said he would veto a bill that included providing relief to households earning $250,000 or more, as GOP congressional leaders and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney want to do.
“Let’s not hold the vast majority of Americans hostage and our entire economy hostage while we debate the merits of another tax cut for the wealthy,” Obama said in the White House’s ornate East Room.
Obama’s appeal drew a disdainful response from Republicans on Capitol Hill.
“President Obama is still asleep at the switch when it comes to our economy and jobs,” said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel noted that Obama made his pitch “just days after another dismal jobs report,” which showed the unemployment rate holding at 8.2 percent in June and the economy adding only 80,000 jobs during the month.
While Obama’s aides denied that his appeal was a political move aimed at distracting attention from Friday’s disappointing employment numbers for June, the president claimed broad political support for his refusal to back across-the-board tax relief after Dec. 31, when the Bush tax cuts are set to expire.
“The American people are with me on this,” he said. “Poll after poll shows that’s the case.”
Obama upped the ante by framing the November election as a referendum on his advocacy of middle-class tax cuts vs. Romney’s desire to extend tax relief to all Americans regardless of income.
“In many ways, the fate of the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans will be decided by the outcome of the next election,” Obama said. “My opponent will fight to keep them in place. I will fight to end them.”
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, readily accepted the challenge.
“President Obama’s response to even more bad economic news is a massive tax increase,” said Romney campaign spokesman Chris Walker. “It just proves again that the president doesn’t have a clue how to get America working again and help the middle class.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tussled with reporters who asked him why Obama, in December 2010 when the Bush tax cuts were originally set to end, backed unrestricted tax relief but now wants to limit it to families earning less than $250,000 a year.
Carney said Obama’s stance then was a political tradeoff as part of a larger political deal with congressional Republicans that included extension of unemployment benefits and payroll tax reductions.
Carney said flat out that Obama would veto any Republican plan to extend the current tax cuts for all Americans. But the Obama spokesman repeatedly declined to make the same vow when reporters asked him about a proposal floated by some Democratic congressional leaders to limit tax hikes to households earning at least $1 million.
Obama and his aides tread a thin line in trying to explain his position.
Obama said Bush’s tax cuts “didn’t work” and blamed his “top-down economics” for the 2008 economic collapse and subsequent Great Recession.