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Vice President Joseph Biden and the Senate's newest Member made the case Saturday for their parties' approaches to extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.
Biden delivered the administration's weekly address for President Barack Obama, who was returning to the United States following a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Friday. Sen. Mark Kirk, who was sworn in Monday as Illinois' junior Senator, spoke for the Republicans.
Biden called on Congress to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class. Kirk and his GOP colleagues want to ensure that the cuts are extended for all income levels, saying that a partial extension would be economically dangerous.
On Thursday the House passed a permanent extension for income up to $250,000, and the Senate is scheduled to hold votes on two tax cut plans Saturday morning. One is similar to the House bill, while the other would extend the cuts for income up to $1 million. The tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew began negotiations on the issue this week with Democrats and Republicans from both chambers.
Biden made the second point that Congress should extend unemployment benefits. "Without unemployment benefits, families can't spend on basic necessities that are grown, made, and sold by other Americans," he said. "Together, the economic hit caused by raising taxes on the middle class, and denying 2 million Americans unemployment insurance, will wind up costing us hundreds of thousands of more jobs. It just isn't smart."
Kirk did not mention unemployment benefits in his address. He said American voters sent a message on Nov. 2 to Congress that it must spend, borrow and tax less. "The current leaders of Congress should not move forward with plans that were just rejected by the American people," he said. "These leaders should not raise taxes and risk another recession. Instead, Congress should reduce spending and prevent another tax hike on American taxpayers."
Taxpayers need to know what their income, estate and capital gains rates will be, he said. "Their uncertainty hurts our economy. It's unfair and short-sighted," he continued.
To address the nation's debt, Kirk recommended ending earmarks and enacting a presidential line-item veto, a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and methods for ensuring spending reductions. He is proposing the creation of a bipartisan commission to identify wasteful spending, coupled with the authority to submit proposals for straight up-or-down votes in Congress, as a way to reduce spending.
Biden said that denying unemployment benefits to laid-off Americans while extending tax cuts for all income levels sends the wrong message.
"So I just don't agree with the folks who've said we can't afford a lifeline for Americans who lost their jobs during the worst recession in generations, but we can afford to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans," he said. "That's bad economic policy, and it's also just simply wrong."