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U.S. President Barack Obama (JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)
U.S. President Barack Obama (JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

Obama, Republicans trade accusations over fiscal cliff Add to ...

U.S. President Barack Obama hit the road on Friday to turn up pressure on Republicans in the fiscal talks, urging Americans to support his drive to raise taxes on the wealthy while extending tax cuts for the middle class.

In a Christmas-season visit to a toy factory, Mr. Obama portrayed congressional Republicans as Scrooges who risked sending the country over the so-called fiscal cliff rather than strike a deal to avert the tax increases and spending cuts that begin in January unless Congress intervenes.

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“If Congress does nothing, every family in America will see their taxes automatically go up on Jan. 1,” Mr. Obama said at a factory that makes Tinkertoys, among other things, in suburban Philadelphia. “That’s sort of like the lump of coal you get for Christmas. That’s a Scrooge Christmas.”

Mr. Obama blamed Republicans who control the House of holding up a deal.

“It’s not acceptable to me and I don’t think it’s acceptable to you for just a handful of Republicans in Congress to hold middle-class tax cuts hostage simply because they don’t want tax rates on upper income folks to go up,” Mr. Obama said.

At immediate issue is whether the tax cuts that originated under former president George W. Bush should be extended beyond Dec. 31 for all taxpayers including the wealthy, as Republicans want, or just for taxpayers with income under $250,000 (U.S.) as Mr. Obama and his fellow Democrats want.

At the Rodon Group factory, which makes K’NEX building toy systems as well as Tinkertoys and consumer products, Mr. Obama said Americans should urge Republicans to extend the tax cuts for all but the wealthy, which would cover 98 per cent of the public, and relieve public concern about a tax rise that economists say could throw the country back into a recession.

“We already all agree, we say, on making sure middle-class taxes don’t go up. So let’s get that done. Let’s go ahead and take the fear out for the vast majority of American families so they don’t have to worry,” Mr. Obama said.

In Washington, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said increasing tax rates on anyone was the wrong approach and said Mr. Obama had not been serious in the fiscal cliff negotiations.

“There is a stalemate. Let’s not kid ourselves,” the Ohio Republican said.

The equities market remained resilient Friday despite signs of a stalemate in Washington. Many investors bet a deal will be struck at the eleventh hour.

“There is no sign of it from the rhetoric but there are expectations it will happen,” said Steve Goldman, principal at Goldman Management in Short Hills, N.J. “The rhetoric will get worse before it gets better.”

Mr. Obama’s trip to Pennsylvania was part of a renewed public relations push on the fiscal cliff talks – an effort that has infuriated Republicans. Mr. Boehner called it a “victory lap” on Thursday as he rejected Mr. Obama’s proposals to avoid the cliff.

“It tells you he’s not interested in negotiating. He’s more interested in travelling around the country trying to campaign,” Representative Jim Gerlach, a Pennsylvania Republican, said on CNBC on Friday.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Mr. Obama’s lead negotiator in the talks, will make the rounds of television talk shows on Sunday.

The White House will continue making its case next week, when Mr. Obama plans to meet a bipartisan group of governors at the White House on Tuesday. Mr. Obama will address the Business Roundtable on Wednesday, the White House said.

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