WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama plans to make a public case this week for his strategy for dealing with the looming fiscal cliff, traveling to the Philadelphia suburbs Friday as he pressures Republicans to allow tax increases on the wealthy while extending tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or less.
The White House said Tuesday that the president intends to hold a series of events aimed at building support for his approach to avoid across-the-board tax increases and steep spending cuts in defense and domestic programs. Obama will meet with small business owners at the White House on Tuesday and with middle-class families on Wednesday.
Obama's strategy is two-fold: Negotiate behind closed doors with Republicans while taking his agenda outside the Beltway only weeks after winning re-election. The president's visit to a small business in Hatfield, Pa., that makes parts for a construction toy company will cap a week of public outreach as the White House and congressional leaders seek a way to avoid the tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
Obama's tactics were quickly panned by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who said Tuesday that "rather than sitting down with lawmakers of both parties and working out an agreement, he's back out on the campaign trail, presumably with the same old talking points we're all familiar with."
"If the president wants a solution to the challenges of the moment, the people he needs to be talking to are the members of his own party, so he can convince them of the need to act," McConnell, R-Ky., said.
Both sides warn the so-called fiscal cliff could harm the nation's economic recovery, but an agreement still appears far from assured. The White House and congressional Republicans have differed on whether to raise revenue through higher tax rates or by closing tax loopholes and deductions.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has pushed for raising additional revenue through the reducing of tax loopholes instead of raising tax rates on wealthy Americans and Republicans have said Democrats need to come up with cuts in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
The White House has countered that the president will not sign legislation that extends current tax rates for the top 2 percent of income earners, or those households with incomes over $250,000. White House officials have expressed a willingness to discuss changes to Medicare and Medicaid but oppose addressing Social Security as part of the fiscal cliff discussions.
Obama has signaled his intention to rally the public to pressure Congress to support his agenda, an approach that helped him win passage of a payroll tax cut extension and prevented interest rates on millions of federal student loans from doubling last summer.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in an email to supporters after the election that the president's volunteer base was crucial to his re-election but said they had "more progress to make, and there's only one way to do it: together."
Following the election, Obama aides asked supporters to record YouTube videos discussing the need to have the wealthiest Americans pay more in taxes. Some of the people who shared their stories on YouTube planned to join Obama at the White House on Wednesday.
The lame-duck session has created a new lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill, with business and labor groups vying for an advantage in debate over taxes and spending.
Business leaders have created a group called The Campaign to Fix the Debt, which has promoted a long-term plan to fix the nation's debt and deficits. Unions and liberal groups are trying to mobilize Obama's supporters through a website called theaction.org, which aims to end the Bush tax cuts "for the richest two percent." The website encourages supporters to use social media to promote Obama's agenda.
House Republicans planned to hold events in the coming weeks with small businesses in their districts to emphasize the effect that tax increases could have on small business and their employees.
On Friday, Obama will tour and deliver remarks at The Rodon Group manufacturing facility in Hatfield, Pa., offering the company up as an example of a business that depends on middle-class consumers during the holiday season. The company manufactures parts for K'NEX Brands, a construction toy company whose products include Tinkertoy, K'NEX Building Sets and Angry Birds Building Sets.
Congressional Republicans, led by Boehner, have expressed openness to discussing additional revenue but oppose any plan that raises tax rates on the wealthy. They argue that the higher rates would also hurt some small businesses and hinder economic growth.
Republicans have called for changes to the tax code to eliminate tax breaks and loopholes that primarily benefit the wealthy. Several key Republican lawmakers have also said they would not be bound by a no-tax-increase pledge that they have adhered to in the past.