Obama urges taxpayers to send message to Congress

U.S. President Barack Obama urged middle class Americans Wednesday to inundate members of Congress with tweets, emails and posts to congressional Facebook walls in support of tax relief before the end of the year.
U.S. President Barack Obama greets citizens after visiting One More Page Books store in Arlington, Va., on Saturday. Obama is reaching out to different groups as he tries to find a solution to the country's looming debt problems. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

U.S. President Barack Obama urged middle class Americans Wednesday to inundate members of Congress with tweets, emails and posts to congressional Facebook walls in support of tax relief before the end of the year.

"Use the hashtag #my2k" on Twitter, the president told a news conference after meeting with a group of "middle-class Americans" at the White House. The hashtag is a reference to the estimated $2,200 tax increase a typical middle-class family of four would see if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire at the end of the year.

The president had met earlier with citizens the White House described as people "who would see their taxes go up if Congress fails to act to extend the middle-class tax cuts." They were standing with Obama at the podium.

Obama said Congress could prevent scheduled tax increases by exempting the first $250,000 of income for every U.S. taxpayer and company. That would help 98 per cent of people and companies, giving them some economic certainty going into the Christmas season, he said.

Obama said he believes that members of both parties can reach a "framework" on a debt-cutting deal before Christmas.

"I am ready and able and willing and excited to go ahead and get this issue resolved in bipartisan fashion so that American families, American businesses have some certainty going into next year," Obama said.

Later in the day, Obama was to host 14 chief executives to talk privately about the tax and spending decisions confronting him and Congress at the end of the year.

The president is scheduled to meet with congressional leaders next week as he tries to navigate toward a solution to the country's looming debt problems.

Tax increases, benefit programs cited

Talks between Democrats and Republicans have focused on finding an alternative to $671 billion US in automatic tax increases and spending cuts that start in January — the so-called fiscal cliff.

Obama has insisted repeatedly that tax increases on the wealthy must be part of any deal, although White House officials concede that government benefit programs will have to be in the package too.

"It is the president's position that when we're talking about a broad, balanced approach to dealing with our fiscal challenges, that that includes dealing with entitlements," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. 

President Barack Obama and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will meet for a private lunch at the White House Thursday. Their final campaign debate, above, was Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

The Associated Press reported there is a growing consensus among Senate Democrats and the White House that social security should be exempt from any deficit-reduction package, though some Democrats say Medicare and Medicaid cuts may be needed to get concessions from Republicans on taxes.

On Wednesday afternoon, an administration official said two of Obama's top negotiators on the "fiscal cliff" would meet Thursday with leading lawmakers. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House legislative chief Rob Nabors will meet with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Among the chief executives scheduled to meet with the president Wednesday were:

  • Lloyd C. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs.
  • Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola.
  • Marissa Mayer of Yahoo.
  • Arne M. Sorenson of Marriott.
  • Frank Blake of Home Depot.
  • Ian Read of Pfizer.

On Thursday, Obama will host former political rival Mitt Romney for a private lunch at the White House, their first meeting since the Nov. 6 election.

Obama promised in his victory speech to engage with the Republican following their bitter campaign and consider his ideas. Thursday's lunch will likely be their most extensive private meeting ever. The two had only a handful of brief exchanges before the 2012 election.

Even during the election, their interactions were largely confined to the three presidential debates. Obama aides said they reached out to Romney's team shortly before last week's Thanksgiving holiday about a meeting.

The men will meet in the White House's private dining room, with no press coverage expected.

With files from The Associated Press