News Column

Obama to Visit Lighthouse State

Dec. 14, 2012

Kevin Miller


President Obama will visit Portland next Wednesday as part of the administration's public campaign to avert the "fiscal cliff."

A White House official told the Portland Press Herald that the president will travel to the University of Southern Maine "to continue making the public case of the impact on the economy and middle class families if taxes go up on 98 percent of Americans January 1st."

No other details were immediately available on Friday morning about the president's trip. The White House said additional information would be released in the coming days.

Obama's visit -- his first to Maine since March -- comes at a time when the administration is attempting to ratchet up the pressure on congressional Republicans to allow tax rates to rise on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Republicans insist that any package to avert the fiscal cliff and reduce the deficit must also include detailed spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs.

Without congressional action, rates will rise for nearly all taxpayers regardless of income level on Jan. 1. At the same time, federal agencies will begin implementing roughly $110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts next year, roughly half of which would come from defense budgets.

Economists fear the combination of tax increases and spending cuts -- the so-called fiscal cliff -- will drive the economy back into recession.

Obama has held several meetings with Republican leaders -- including a brief talk on Thursday evening with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio -- but the two sides still appear far apart.

While none of Maine's congressional representatives are involved in the top-level negotiations, the state's two Republican senators -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe -- could play a role in any closely divided vote, as they have on other major issues in recent years.

Both moderates, Snowe and Collins have expressed a willingness to immediately extend tax cuts on households earning less than $250,000 a year rather than risk driving the entire economy off the fiscal cliff due to disagreement on taxing the wealthy. But both have also expressed reservations about how the tax hikes may hurt small business owners in Maine.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, welcomed news of the president's impending visit.

"It's always great to have the president come to Maine and we are happy to welcome him to our state again," Pingree said in a statement. "I've heard from many people in Maine who are urging the President and Congress to come together to avoid the fiscal cliff, and this visit will be a good opportunity for Mainers to hear from the President first-hand on the issue."

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority shareowner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.

Both sides in the battle over the fiscal cliff have intensified their public relations campaigns and posturing in recent weeks even as Americans and business owners grow increasingly worried about a failure to strike a deal.

Fresh of his Election Day victory, Obama has taken his campaign for middle class tax cuts -- and tax hikes on the wealthy -- on the road as he attempts to use the power of the presidency to increase public pressure on Republicans. He rallied union workers in Michigan, visited a toy factory in Philadelphia and met with a middle-income Virginia family in their home.

Republicans, meanwhile, have accused the president of continuing the 2012 election rather than offering serious proposals to reduce the federal deficit.

According to the White House's National Economic Council, more than 500,000 middle-income households in Maine would see their taxes rise if Congress does not extend the middle class tax cuts.

When combined with other tax changes slated to take effect absent a deal, a family of four with an income of $78,300 would pay roughly $2,200 more in taxes next year while a single mother with two children earning $24,000 a year would pay $1,670 more in taxes.

But Republican leaders warn that raising taxes on the wealthy will stifle economic growth. They also insist that spending across government -- including on entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security -- must be reduced significantly to address the federal deficit.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2012 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)

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