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Obama, Republicans in tax face-off at White House

30 Nov

President Barack Obama (left) and House Speaker-elect US Representative John Boehner

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November 30, 2010 (KATAKAMI / Reuters) – President Barack Obama faces off with Republican congressional leaders over taxes on Tuesday in a test-of-wills that could foreshadow how the White House works with the opposition party in the coming two years.

Obama will host Republicans John Boehner, the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Mitch McConnell, the party’s leader in the Senate, as well as Democrats Nancy Pelosi, the current Speaker, and Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, at 10:30 EST at the White House.

Taxes will be at the top of their agenda.

With a broad victory in November 2 elections behind them, Republicans are eager to force Democrats to agree to extend Bush-era tax cuts for wealthy Americans as well as the middle-class constituency that concerns Obama the most.

Democrats have been in disarray about how to proceed, despite an impending deadline: the tax cuts expire at the end of this year, and Obama is keen to avoid a situation in which American families making less than $250,000 a year face a tax hike on Jan 1.

To prevent that, he may have to agree to extend cuts for Americans of all income levels for one to three years — an onerous option to many Democrats, but one that may be the most likely outcome if the two sides agree on anything at all.

Obama has said the United States cannot afford to pay the $700 billion it would cost to extend tax cuts for the rich, but he has also signaled a willingness to compromise after the “shellacking” his party received in this month’s election.

The White House said a deal was unlikely to be reached at Tuesday’s meeting, which Obama said he hoped would jump-start a better relationship between him and the newly empowered Republicans.

“My hope is that tomorrow’s meeting will mark a first step toward a new and productive working relationship,” Obama said. “Because we now have a shared responsibility to deliver for the American people on the issues that define not only these times but our future — and I hope we can do that in a cooperative and serious way.”

House Speaker-elect US Representative John Boehner speaks during a press conference November 18, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Boehner now awaits near-certain election by the full House as speaker when Republicans step into Congress on January 5 after seizing the majority from US President Barack Obama's Democrats. (Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

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Boehner and McConnell, who could become Obama’s main adversaries next year, wrote in an opinion piece that their party would insist on extending tax cuts for everyone during the “lame duck” congressional session that ends this year.

Republicans will control the House and have greater strength in the Senate next year.

“If President Obama and Democratic leaders put forward a plan during the lame-duck session to cut spending and stop the tax hikes on all Americans, they can count on a positive response from Republicans,” the two men wrote in a Washington Post piece published on Tuesday.

“If the president and Democratic leaders don’t act before the end of the year, however, House and Senate Republicans will work to get the job done in the new Congress. But we hope it doesn’t come to that.”

The Republicans will put that position on the table during the meeting with Obama, which will also be attended by Vice President Joe Biden, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, budget director Jack Lew and other congressional leaders.

Obama invited the congressional leaders for a White House dinner earlier this month, but it was put off for scheduling reasons, which some Democrats interpreted as a Republican snub of the president’s outstretched hand.  (*)

 
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