Obama won't budge on pledge for middle-class tax relief, top aides say

December 29, 2008|By Peter Nicholas | Peter Nicholas,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -

President-elect Barack Obama's top advisers said yesterday that they won't back away from a promise to cut taxes on the middle class and raise them for the wealthiest Americans, as they made the case for a huge new stimulus package geared toward reviving the slumping economy.

Speaking on Sunday talk shows and in a newspaper opinion piece, Obama aides stepped up a drive to build a broad political consensus behind Obama's core economic proposals: a two-year spending package that could exceed $775 billion, coupled with tax policies weighted in favor of the middle class.

Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, senior adviser David Axelrod said, "We have to act. Every economist from left to right agrees that we have to do something big in terms of job creation, but we want to do it in a way that will leave a lasting footprint."

Obama wants lawmakers to give him a stimulus bill to sign soon after he is sworn in Jan. 20.

Writing yesterday in The Washington Post, Lawrence Summers, Obama's incoming director of the White House National Economic Council, said the bleak economic climate calls for substantial new spending.

"Economic forecasts have been revised significantly downward over the past several months; today, many experts believe that unemployment could reach 10 percent by the end of next year," Summers wrote. As of November, unemployment stood at 6.7 percent.

Summers added: "In this crisis, doing too little poses a greater threat than doing too much."

Though he called for a more modest stimulus during the presidential campaign, Obama is now raising the ante. He wants to buoy the economy through hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending that would also be a step toward the broader economic transformation that he outlined as a candidate.

The money would go toward classrooms, libraries and labs meant to help students compete in a modern global economy; repair of aging bridges, roads and public transit systems; computerization of health care records; and investments in energy sources that would curb U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

"These are things that will put people to work but also that will strengthen our economy in the long run, and that's where we're focusing our attention," Axelrod said.

With the nation facing both a $1 trillion deficit and a rising jobless rate, some economic experts have suggested that Obama rework his tax plans. Their argument is that now is an inopportune time to lower middle class taxes or to raise taxes on people earning more than $250,000 a year.

Axelrod said the president-elect won't budge.

"Look, we feel it's important that middle-class people get some relief now," Axelrod said. "He's promised a middle-class tax cut. This package will include a portion of that tax cut that will become part of the permanent tax cut he'll have in his upcoming budget."

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