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Obama: GOP holding middle class tax cuts 'hostage'

/ Source: NBC News

Flanked by members of his Cabinet and his economic team, President Barack Obama urged Congress Wednesday to pass an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class and accused Republicans of holding the cuts "hostage."

The president has proposed extending cuts for those who earn less than $200,000 and letting taxes on the wealthy rise, arguing that his plan makes more economic sense than spending $700 billion over the next decade to extend tax cuts for the top 2 percent of Americans.

All of the tax cuts will expire this year if Congress does not take action.

"Extending these tax cuts is right. It is just," Obama told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. "It will help our economy, because middle class folks are the folks who are most likely to actually spend this tax relief for a new computer for the kids or for maybe some home improvement."

The Republican Party wants to see all of the tax cuts extended — including those for the wealthy — a position that White House believes it can use to make the case that the GOP is looking out for the rich and big corporations.

While the president had made clear his support for an extension of tax relief for the middle class, Wednesday's statement was the first time he called for immediate action to make that happen.

"Right now, we could decide to extend tax relief for the middle class," Obama said. "Even as we debate whether it's wise to spend $700 billion on tax breaks for the wealthy, doesn't it make sense for us to move forward with the tax cuts that we all agree on?"

He thanked two Senate Republicans — Ohio's George Voinovich and Florida's George LeMieux — for breaking ranks and voting with Democrats to allow a small business bill the administration has been pushing for weeks to go to a vote in the chamber, where it is expected to pass.

He called on members of Congress to work together in a similar way to provide middle class tax relief "in the weeks to come."

But some House Democrats — especially those facing tough re-election races in November — disagree with Obama's approach.

"We should not be raising taxes in the middle of a recession," Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., who's facing tough odds in his bid for a fourth term, wrote in a terse letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"It is essential that we keep things as they are in the short term," said Rep. Travis W. Childers, D-Miss., another conservative incumbent in a tight race, whose district, like Marshall's, voted for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential race.

For this pair, one press release announcing their opposition to Obama's plan was not enough. They and other jittery moderate Democrats have signed a letter being circulated by Utah Rep. Jim Matheson urging Pelosi, D-Calif., and other House leaders to abandon the Obama plan and extend to everyone the Bush-era tax cuts due to expire at the end of the year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.