(Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed)
With just 30 days left for Democrats and Republicans to agree on how to avoid a year-end "fiscal cliff," President Barack Obama used his weekly address Saturday to call on Congress to extend the middle-class tax break in an apparent move to increase pressure on the GOP.
"Both parties say we should keep middle-class taxes low," the president said in his address Saturday. "Democrats in the House are ready to do the same thing. And if we can just get a few House Republicans on board, I'll sign this bill as soon as Congress sends it my way."
Obama insisted that a lower rate be offered to those making less than $250,000 a year. "Congress can do that right now. They can give families like yours a sense of security going into the New Year."
But Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said in the GOP weekly response, "The President has said he wants a so-called balanced approach to solve this crisis. But what he proposed this week was a classic bait and switch on the American people – a tax increase double the size of what he campaigned on (and) billions of dollars in new stimulus spending."
According to Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington-based group headed by Grover Norquist, 39 senators and 219 House members entering the next Congress have signed a no-new-taxes pledge that dates back to 1986.
However, some Republicans who signed the pledge do not want to abide by it. "I think that you sent me to Washington to think for myself. And I want to vote the way you want me to vote," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told a group of Republicans in a suburb northwest of Atlanta Saturday. "I don't want to be dictated to by anybody in Washington as to how I'm going to vote on anything," Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted him as saying.
Norquist told CNN those who signed but now oppose the agreement are having "impure thoughts." He added that no one who signed has actually broken the pledge yet, though he said he will work to unseat those who do.
The website of Americans for Tax Reform says the pledge "is considered binding" as long as a lawmaker holds the office to which he or she was elected when signing. The pledge "has become de rigueur for Republicans seeking office."
Meanwhile, Obama's efforts to put pressure on House Republicans do not seem to be producing results.
On Friday, the day before his weekly address, Obama gave a campaign-like speech after touring a Pennsylvania toy factory, warning of a "Scrooge" Christmas if legislation is not passed. "Let's get that done," he said. "Let's go ahead and take the fear out for the vast majority of American families so they don't have to worry about $2,000 coming out of their pockets next year."
Speaker of the House John Boehner told reporters Friday, "There's a stalemate. Let's not kid ourselves." The White House plan, which Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House congressional liaison Rob Nabors put forth Thursday, "was not a serious proposal," he said. "Right now we're almost nowhere."
The White House plan would achieve $4.5 trillion in savings to the government, according to Reuters. The proposal includes around $1 trillion in cuts already enacted into law and would set up an "expedited process" to spirit through Congress some of the most comprehensive legislation in decades. It also seeks comprehensive reform of the U.S. tax code and overhaul of federal programs like Medicare by next Aug. 1, 2013.
Including some immediate savings such as taxing the rich at a higher rate, proposals for next year would raise about $1.5 trillion in new revenues, and those proposals would also involve an additional $2.4 trillion in spending cuts.
Boehner has expressed concern that Democrats have shown no willingness to reduce the rate of growth in entitlement spending.