(WASHINGTON) — President Obama, Republican lawmakers and an army of independent advocacy groups are mounting an aggressive new public campaign to highlight the stakes in a deal to avoid an economically toxic package of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that could take hold in 35 days.
The push has all the makings of a political campaign — coming just three weeks after Election Day — but with the nation’s debt taking center stage instead of an individual candidate.
Obama is accelerating his outreach to key constituencies to shore up support for his “balanced” debt-reduction plan of tax increases on wealthier Americans coupled with cuts to government spending.
The president on Tuesday will host a private White House meeting with 15 small-business leaders, including the founder of an airplane crop-duster manufacturer from Texas, a music store owner from St. Louis and a local beer brewer from Wisconsin.
On Wednesday, Obama will hold an event to highlight the stories of Americans who wrote to the administration online about the importance of extending the Bush-era tax cuts for middle-income earners, and how going over the “cliff” and letting rates rise might adversely affect them.
The president then hits the “campaign trail” on Friday for a rally at a toy factory outside Philadelphia, taking his case directly to the people on the importance of averting the “fiscal cliff” for buoying consumer confidence and purchasing power during the holidays.
“Hearing from [voters], hearing their voices and hearing their priorities is essential to helping compel this process forward,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.
Pressure from the White House and public opinion, however, is unlikely to easily sway House Republicans, most of who have vowed to reject any tax increases and would almost certainly draw a primary challenge if they wavered.
“The target of the president’s rallies should be the congressional Democrats who want to raise tax rates on small businesses rather than cut spending,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.
Obama insists that income tax rates should rise on individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and families making more than $250,000, or the top 2 percent of Americans. Republicans remain staunchly opposed to increasing rates.
Boehner and other party leaders have expressed willingness to raise more revenue, coupled with overhauling entitlement programs, but they say it should be done by closing tax loopholes and capping deductions while decreasing net tax rates themselves.
Boehner plans to meet with former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and members of the “Fix the Debt” coalition on Wednesday, his office said. The Ohio congressman will also meet with an array of business leaders and CEOs.
Many House Republicans also plan to take their case against a tax rate increase on the road, planning public events in their home states and visits to small businesses, according to a Boehner spokesman.
Meanwhile, an army of independent interest groups have also begun adding their voices to the debate, running TV and radio ads, posting billboards and gathering signatures in online petition campaigns.
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