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President Barack Obama on Sunday sought to ratchet up the pressure on Congress to pass an eleventh hour legislative package to limit the effect of tax increases set to take effect Jan. 1.
“Let’s at minimum make sure that people’s taxes don’t go up and that 2 million people don’t lose their unemployment insurance,” Obama said in a taped interview with David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Obama has been pushing for extending tax cuts for households making less than $250,000 a year, and allowing them to expire for those making more. The George W. Bush-era law authorizing lower tax rates expires at the end of the year, which means taxes will increase for all taxpayers on Jan. 1 unless Congress acts and the president signs a new bill into law.
The president’s proposal would keep the cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers, Democrats have argued. But recent discussions have included the possibility of setting the threshold higher, perhaps at $400,000 to $500,000.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are working on a proposal that they hope can win enough bipartisan support to get through the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-controlled House.
Obama said he was “modestly optimistic” after meeting with congressional leaders on Friday.
“But we don’t yet see an agreement, and now the pressure is on Congress to produce,” Obama said.
Both McConnell and Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, reacted sharply to Obama’s comments, characterizing them as casting blame on the GOP.
“While the president was taping those discordant remarks yesterday, Sen. McConnell was in the office working to bring Republicans and Democrats together on a solution,” said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart in an email. “Discussions continue today.”
Boehner said in a statement that “Americans elected President Obama to lead, not cast blame. The president’s comments today are ironic, as a recurring theme of our negotiations was his unwillingness to agree to anything that would require him to stand up to his own party.”
Absent an agreement that would clear both chambers, the president has asked for Senate and House votes on his proposal extending the tax cuts for households making less than $250,000 a year.