President Barack Obama's plan to avoid the "fiscal cliff" includes a campaign-like effort away from Washington starting this week, the White House said.
Obama is to travel to Hatfield, Pa., Friday to visit toymaker K'nex Brands, "a business that depends on middle-class consumers during the holiday season, and could be impacted if taxes go up on 98 percent of Americans at the end of the year," the White House said.
The tax increase refers to George W. Bush-era tax cuts set to expire Jan. 1. Obama wants to preserve the Bush-era tax rates for incomes up to $250,000 but increase the marginal rate on taxable income above that threshold.
Obama was to play host Wednesday to middle-class Americans the White House said would be affected by the tax increases if Congress does not act to avoid the fiscal cliff's more than $500 billion in annual automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to kick in after New Year's Day.
Obama also was to meet with 14 chief executives from big businesses, the White House said.
The president's campaign-like push comes as top Democratic and Republican leaders were at a standoff on the issue.
Republicans maintained all tax rates must remain unchanged, while Democrats insisted upper rates must rise. Republicans have also called for cuts and other changes in entitlement programs, while most Democrats have refused to move on these until Republicans give more ground on taxes.
The negotiations grew knottier Tuesday, when several leading Democrats called on Obama to demand Republicans agree to raise the nation's $16.4 trillion debt limit as part of a fiscal deal.
"We would be somewhat foolish to work out something on stopping us from going over the cliff and then a month or six weeks later, the Republicans would pull the same game they did before," The Washington Post quoted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as saying.
The "game" he referred to was the summer 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations.
Republican leaders denounced Obama's "campaign" as a public-relations ploy aimed at bypassing congressional leaders.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the "time for campaigning is over."
He said Obama should focus on ensuring Democrats compromise over higher tax rates for the wealthy.
"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 said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "Only inside the Beltway do people think that sitting in a room for a photo spray will solve problems," referring to media slang for an appearance by politicians aimed primarily at photographers. "The work has to be done, and that work is being done."
Despite its criticism of Obama's plans, the GOP readied a public-relations initiative of its own to galvanize small-business owners to support Republican lawmakers' fiscal-cliff proposals, in particular keeping the top income-tax rates at Bush-level lows, The Wall Street Journal reported.
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