WASHINGTON — As Senate leaders worked feverishly behind closed doors to avert a looming fiscal cliff, President Barack Obama on Saturday implored lawmakers to strike a deal that would prevent taxes from rising on the middle class and lay a foundation for the economy to grow and reduce the deficit.
“It’s a balanced plan — one that would protect the middle class, cut spending in a responsible way and ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more,” Obama said in his weekly radio address. “And I’ll keep working with anybody who’s serious about getting a comprehensive plan like this done — because it’s the right thing to do for our economic growth.”
Republicans, in their radio address rebuttal, said they agree with Obama about sparing millions of Americans from economic hardship. They just disagree with some of the ways to do it.
“The president’s proposal to raise taxes on the top 2 percent of Americans won’t even pay one-third of the annual interest that’s now owed on this massive $16 trillion debt,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said in his party’s message. “We still can avoid going over the fiscal cliff if the president and the Democrat-controlled Senate step forward this week and work with Republicans to solve this problem and solve it now.”
As the parties repeated their positions in public, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were spending the weekend working to find a possible solution to looming tax increases and spending cuts in time for votes tonight by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Failure to reach agreement by Monday evening would mean that Bush-era tax cuts would expire for all taxpayers, an Obama cut in the payroll tax for Social Security would expire, jobless benefits would dry up for 2 million unemployed, the alternative minimum tax would hit more taxpayers, Medicare payments to doctors would be cut, and $109 billion in federal government spending cuts would start, the first installment toward $1.2 trillion in cuts over two years.
At the center of the private talks Saturday was the question of which Bush-era tax cuts to extend, with Democrats pushing to extend only those on individual income below $200,000 and family income below $250,000, which would mean a tax increase for all income above that. Republicans were pushing to extend all of the tax cuts.
Some of the painful measures were increasingly likely to take effect, at least temporarily.
No one was known to be pushing to extend the cut in the payroll tax, enacted as a temporary measure to put more cash in people’s pockets in hopes of stimulating the economy. If the cut expires Monday night, all taxpayers would see their paychecks shrink as that tax goes back to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent.
Also, House Republicans signaled that they would not agree to stop the automatic spending cuts unless or until they could forge a deal for long-term spending cuts.
If Reid and McConnell fail to reach any agreement, Obama will ask Congress to vote on his original proposal to raise taxes on individual income above $200,000 and family income above $250,000, and to extend jobless benefits for 2 million unemployed workers.
“I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities — as long as these leaders allow it to come to a vote,” he said. “If they still want to vote no and let this tax hike hit the middle class, that’s their prerogative — but they should let everyone vote. That’s the way this is supposed to work.”
To keep pressure on Congress, Obama is scheduled to sit for an interview today with NBC’s “Meet the Press.” It will be his 11th appearance on the show, his second as president.