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September 26, 2017

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Obama seeks to shift campaign focus from employment to taxes

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama is hitting the road to press Congress to extend tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners, framing a debate with Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans over tax fairness. Romney's campaign said the president was trying to draw attention from a limp economic recovery.

Obama was making his pitch Tuesday in Iowa, the state that launched his presidential bid in 2008. He faces a tough contest there against Romney in the November election.

Obama wants Congress to extend the tax cuts for middle class Americans while allowing a rise in taxes for what he said was the 2 percent of the population earning more than US$250,000 a year. Romney supports extending the federal tax cuts, first signed by former President George W. Bush, for all income earners.

Obama sought to elevate the tax debate as one of the defining issues of the campaign, saying the outcome in the November election would determine the fate of the tax cuts for higher income earners. The White House and Obama's campaign want to use the tax debate to portray congressional Republicans as obstructionists and Romney as a defender of the wealthy who is willing to push an across-the-board extension of the tax breaks at the expense of those earning more modest incomes.

Obama's sudden focus on taxes came amid the latest round of grim news for his re-election effort: For the second consecutive month, Romney raised more campaign funds than the president, whose campaign acknowledged in an email to supporters that it is in trouble.

The White House is again raising the tax issue with full knowledge that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will not accept such a move unless it also includes extending tax cuts for high-income earners.

That is a symptom of the legislative and political gridlock consuming Washington in advance of the November elections. Another example is the plan in the House of Representatives to vote to remove Obama's health care overhaul from the books. That will be blocked by the Democratic-controlled Senate and would be vetoed by Obama even should it pass both houses in Congress.

The president has long supported ending the Bush-era tax cuts for those making more than US$250,000. The White House and the president's re-election team are reviving his arguments now as a way to suggest that the push by Romney and congressional Republicans for an across-the-board extension of the tax cuts could put America's middle class at risk.

"Let's not hold the vast majority of Americans and our economy hostage while we debate the merits of another tax cut for the wealthy," Obama said at the White House.

Obama threatened to veto a full extension of the Bush tax cuts, saying in an interview with WWL-TV in New Orleans on Monday that a tax cut for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans would cost US$1 trillion over the next decade at a time when the nation needs to reduce the federal deficit.

Emphasizing the consequences to families, Obama was meeting Tuesday with an Iowa couple that the White House said would benefit from his tax plan. He was then holding a campaign event at a Cedar Rapids community college where he planned to make the case for the extension for those earning US$250,000 or less.

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