(The Root) — In a speech Friday about the tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year, President Obama made the case that they should lapse for Americans making $250,000 or more annually and be extended for the other 98 percent of Americans.
Referring to the group of middle-class citizens in the audience, he said, "The people standing behind me should not have to pay more just so the wealthiest Americans can pay less," and called Mitt Romney's proposal for an additional tax cut "upside-down economics." Read an excerpt here:
Rebuilding a strong economy begins with rebuilding our middle class. And what we should do right now is give middle-class families and small business owners a guarantee that their taxes will not go up next year. When families have the security of knowing that their taxes won't go up they're more likely to spend, and more likely to grow the economy. When small business owners have certainty on taxes and can plan ahead they're more likely to hire and create new jobs. And that benefits all of us.
And that's why, last week, I was pleasantly surprised — I was glad to see the Senate come together and extend tax cuts on the first $250,000 of every family's income. That means 98 percent of Americans won't see their income taxes go up next year. That means that 97 percent of small businesses wouldn't see their income taxes go up next year. Not a single dime. That would be important.
And that's why it's so disappointing that, so far at least, House Republicans have refused to follow the Senate's example and do the same thing. On Wednesday, they voted to hold these middle-class tax cuts hostage unless we also spend a trillion dollars over the next decade on tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. In fact, it's a little worse than that because their plan would actually raise taxes on 25 million hardworking American families by about $1,000 each.
So, at a time when too many working families are already struggling to make ends meet, they want to give millionaires and billionaires and folks like me tax cuts that we don't need and that the country can't afford, even if middle-class families have to pick up the tab for it. Those are their priorities.
And this week, we learned that there's some in the Republican Party who don't want to stop there. An independent, non-partisan study found that one plan at least would give more tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, and they'd pay for those tax cuts by raising taxes on the middle class — an average tax hike of more than $2,000 for families with children.
Now, I just think we've got our priorities skewed if the notion is that we give tax breaks to folks who don't need them and, to help pay for that, we tax folks who are already struggling to get by. That's not how you grow an economy. You grow an economy from the middle out, and from the bottom up. And the kind of approach that the House Republicans are talking about is bad for our families and it's bad for our economy.
The people standing behind me should not have to pay more just so the wealthiest Americans can pay less. That's not just top-down economics, that's upside-down economics. (Laughter.)
Instead of the middle class paying more, we should ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more, a modest amount, so that we can reduce our deficit and still make investments in things like education that help our economy grow …
Let's keep taxes low for 98 percent of Americans, and we can argue about the other 2 percent. Let's keep taxes low for the 97 percent of small business owners, and we can argue about the other 3 percent. If Congress sends me a clean bill extending the tax cuts on the first $250,000 of every family's income, I will sign it right away. (Applause.) I will sign it right away.
There's no reason to wait. There's no reason to make families and small businesses anxious just so one party can score political points. Let's go ahead and give them that guarantee now that their taxes won't go up next year …
It's the right thing to do. It's the smart thing to do. It would be good for the economy, and most importantly, it would be good for your families.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.