President Barack Obama blamed Republicans on Saturday for a stalemate that could increase taxes on Americans next year while a leading Senate Republican cast Obama and his Democratic Party as obstructionists who want to place the tax burden on businesses during an economic slowdown.
In his weekly radio and online address, Obama pressed the Republican-controlled House to extend Bush-era tax cuts for households making $250,000 or less while letting lower rates on wealthier taxpayers expire and go up. The Democratic-controlled Senate narrowly passed such a measure earlier in the week, but the House is not expected to follow suit.
"Instead of doing what's right for middle-class families and small-business owners, Republicans in Congress are holding these tax cuts hostage until we extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans," Obama said.
Responding on behalf of the congressional GOP, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said Obama's plan would do more harm to the economy and criticized him with almost identical language. He called for extending current tax rates for all taxpayers and spending 2013 overhauling and simplifying the tax code.
"Raising taxes as our economy continues to struggle is not a solution, and the majority of Americans and businesses understand that," Hatch said. "The president and his Washington allies need to stop holding America's economy hostage in order to raise taxes on those trying to lead our economic recovery."
The competing views frame today's Washington political debate and the presidential contest. With the economy standing as the main issue on voters' minds, Obama, rival Mitt Romney and lawmakers of both parties are engaged in brinkmanship and political test votes ahead of the November election and the Dec. 31 deadline when the Bush-era tax rates expire.
Obama used his address to take a rare swipe at Romney, even though he didn't mention his challenger by name.
"Republicans in Congress and their nominee for president believe that the best way to create prosperity in America is to let it trickle down from the top," he said. "They believe that if our country spends trillions more on tax cuts for the wealthy, we'll somehow create jobs — even if we have to pay for it by gutting things like education and training and by raising middle-class taxes. They're wrong."
Saturday's dueling addresses come a day after the government reported that weak consumer spending held growth to an annual rate of just 1.5 percent in the second quarter. That was lower than the 2 percent rate of the first quarter and less than what's necessary to help drive down the unemployment rate, now stuck at 8.2 percent.
The White House budget office on Friday also predicted that the economy for this year will grow at a modest 2.6 percent annual rate and that the jobless rate will average 8 percent. It forecasts 2.6 percent growth next year, down from the 3.0 percent it predicted in February.
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