Obama ratchets up heat on House to OK Senate tax bill

Plan faces likely party-line defeat

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President Obama is using all the weapons in the White House arsenal to pressure Republicans on taxes this week, giving his Cabinet marching orders to amplify his tax-fairness message in the coming days, while House GOP said it would allow a full vote on the Senate-passed tax plan.

Senate Democrats earlier this week passed an extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans — a clearly political vote aimed at boosting the president’s message.

Mr. Obama has been hammering Republicans on the campaign trail for months saying taxes needed to be raised on the rich — always in the context of taking credit for trying to promote a “fairer” tax system for the middle-class and attempting to paint Mitt Romney as a champion of the rich.

Mr. Romney and Republicans argue that any tax increases, on the wealthy or anyone else, will hurt the still-struggling economy. House Republican leaders said Thursday they will allow side-by-side votes next week on the Senate Democrats’ tax bill and a GOP version that would extend the tax breaks for everyone.

After a meeting with his Cabinet on Thursday, Mr. Obama said his tax-cut extension would ensure that 98 percent of Americans don’t see their taxes go up next year, and called on Republicans, who control the House, to act on just that component.

“The only thing that is going to prevent the vast majority of Americans from not seeing a tax increase next year is if the House doesn’t act,” Mr. Obama told reporters before the Cabinet meeting.

“I would encourage the House of Representatives to do the right thing, and I’m going to make sure my Cabinet members amplify that message in the days to come,” he added.

Democrats argue that the president’s sustained class-warfare strategy and repeated attempts to throw down the populist gauntlet on taxes, along with his campaign’s attacks on Mr. Romney’s time at Bain Capital are working, contributing to an impression of Mr. Romney and Republicans as more concerned with the wealthy than the vast majority of middle-class voters, many of whom are still struggling in a bad economy.

After months of hearing about Mr. Romney’s position on taxes and his tenure at Bain, 36 percent of registered voters said the issue had made them view the former governor of Massachusetts less favorably, compared to 18 percent who said they were now more favorable toward Mr. Romney, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday.

But another poll, this one conducted by Gallup and released Thursday, show only a slight bump in Mr. Obama’s overall approval rating, which had gone up just 2 percentage points in the second quarter of the year from the first quarter and was still hovering at 47 percent, dangerous territory for an incumbent president seeking re-election.

Those numbers predate the firestorm over Mr. Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comments from July 13 in Roanoke, Va., that said business owners weren’t entirely responsible for their success. The president’s campaign has spent two weeks in damage-control over the remarks, and House Republicans don’t seem cowed by Mr. Obama’s latest attack over taxes.

“If our Democrat colleagues want to offer the president’s plan or the Senate Democrat plan, we’re more than happy to give them the vote,” House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Thursday.

Democrats had been concerned that Republicans leaders who control the House might relegate a vote on the Democratic Senate bill to only a toothless procedural measure. But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, assured Democrats they would have an opportunity for a stand-alone vote.

“We do expect, and our intention is, to allow your tax hike to be made in order,” Mr. Cantor said on the House floor. “The speaker has always represented that we are going to work towards an open process.”

While neither party wants the tax cuts to sunset for the middle class, the main dispute has focused on the nation’s most wealthy. Democrats want to cap the expiring tax breaks at the $250,000 level for households and $200,000 for individuals, while Republicans are pushing to extend the benefits to everyone.

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