Obama's 'Fiscal Cliff' Bottomline: Spare Only 'Middle Class' from Tax Hike and Extend Unemployment Benefits Again

By Terence P. Jeffrey | December 28, 2012 | 7:51pm EST


President Barack Obama discusses "fiscal cliff" negotiations at the White House on Dec. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama said on Friday evening that if he cannot make a bipartisan deal with congressional leaders before the Monday "fiscal cliff" deadline, he has asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring legislation up for a vote in the Senate that would extend the Bush tax rates for "middle class" Americans only and extend unemployment benefits for 2 million Americans whose government payments would otherwise expire.

"So if we don’t see an agreement between the two leaders in the Senate, I expect a bill to go on the floor—and I have asked Senator Reid to do this—put a bill on the floor that makes sure that taxes on middle class families don’t go up, that unemployment insurance is still available for 2 million people, and that lays the groundwork then for additional deficit reduction and economic growth steps that we can take in the New Year," said Obama.

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"But let’s not miss this deadline," he said. "That is the bare minimum that we should be able to get done."

“For the past couple of months I’ve been working with leaders of both parties a balanced plan that would cut spending in a responsible way, but also ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more," said Obama. "I still want to get this done. It is the right thing to do for our families, our businesses and our entire economy.

“But the hour for immediate action is here. It is now. We are now at the point where in just four days every American’s tax rates are scheduled to go up by law," said Obama.

"Every American’s paycheck will get considerably smaller. And that would be the wrong thing to do for our economy," said Obama. "It would be bad for middle class families. And it would be bad for businesses that depend on family spending. Fortunately, Congress can prevent it from happening if they act right now.

"I just had a good and constructive discussion here at the White House with Senate and House leadership about how to prevent this tax hike on the middle class," said Obama. "And I am optimistic we may be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time. Senators Reid and McConnell are working on such an agreement as we speak. But if an agreement isn’t reached in time between Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell, then I will urge Sen. Reid to bring to the floor a basic package for an up or down vote, one that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends the vital lifeline of unemployment insurance to 2 million Americans looking for a job, and lays the groundwork for future cooperation on more economic growth and deficit reduction.

"I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities, as long as those leaders allow it to actually come to a vote," said Obama. "If members of the House or the Senate want to vote no, they can. But we should let everybody vote. That’s the way this is supposed to work. If you can get a majority in the House and you can get a majority in the Senate, then we should be able to pass a bill."

Ordinarily, according to the Congressional Research Service, unemployed workers are entitled to 26 weeks of federal-state unemployment benefits. However, since 2008, both President George W. Bush and President Obama have at signed legislation extending the duration of unemployment insurance benefits. At one point, workers in some high unemployment states were eligible for up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. Currently, some workers are eligible for 73 weeks. The latest extension program ends next week, however, and without a new extension workers would be limited to only 26 week of unemployment payments.

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