US President Barack Obama on Tuesday launched a public relations push for his bid to raise taxes on wealthy Americans, but US lawmakers remained deadlocked over dramatic, year-end tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff.
At the White House, small business leaders emerged from a one-hour meeting with Obama to voice support for his goal of extending low tax rates for the middle class beyond the end of the year, while letting rates rise for wealthier taxpayers.
“What grows jobs in America is consumers spending money, and the average person needs that two or three thousand dollars a year in his pocket to help drive the economy,” said Lew Prince, cofounder of Vintage Vinyl, an independent music store in St Louis, Missouri, told reporters at the White House.
Republicans want to extend low tax rates — enacted a decade ago under the administration of former Republican president George W. Bush — for all taxpayers, including households earning more than US$250,000 a year.
Raising tax rates on the wealthy would discourage investment and hiring at a time of high unemployment, Republicans say.
Congressional Democrats allied with the president showed no sign of backing down from his stance on raising taxes for the wealthy, but both sides have softened on some long-held positions: Republicans have been showing a willingness to consider new revenue increases, while Democrats have relaxed their hard line against new savings to the costly government-run Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs.
With just a month left before the Bush tax cuts expire and automatic spending cuts begin to take hold, markets were anxious about predictions that falling off the fiscal cliff could trigger another recession.
Fresh from his re-election, Obama was set to hold another meeting with business executives from larger companies yesterday and then to travel to a toy factory in Pennsylvania on Friday to press his case on taxes.
Chief executives from Goldman Sachs, Deloitte LLP, Caterpillar, Yahoo and Comcast were among the group of leaders set to meet with the president, the White House said.
Obama last met with congressional leaders on Nov. 16. A follow-up session was not expected this week, but could come next week, congressional aides said.
In the interim, little progress was made over the holidays in meetings between the staffs of the White House and Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, aides said.
Ron Bonjean, a former aide to Republican leaders in the House and Senate, said leaders were still checking with their rank-and-file members to gauge what concessions they might be able to stomach. In a week or so, Bonjean said, “the level of intensity will go up” with more meetings.
While Republicans have not shifted from their opposition to tax rate increases, a few have publicly disavowed a no-new-taxes pledge to which most of them have adhered for years.
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