With Congress back from its Fourth of July recess, President Obama today renewed his push for an extension of the "Bush tax cuts" for middle-income earners while letting rates on wealthier Americans rise at the end of the year.
"Let's agree to do what we agree on, right?" Obama said in a statement from the White House East Room, urging lawmakers to act on a partial extension of the tax cuts.
"That's what compromise is all about," he said. "Let's not hold the vast majority of Americans and our entire economy hostage while we debate the merits of another tax cut for the wealthy."
Obama wants to extend current, lower rates for 98 percent of Americans - individuals earning $200,000 a year or less and families making $250,000 or less - something on which Republicans and Democrats generally agree.
For earners above that level, under Obama's plan, rates rise would rise in January 2013 to what they were during the Clinton era. Republicans are staunchly opposed.
While Obama's position is not new, he used the White House event to thrust the issue of tax fairness to center stage in his messaging this week in Washington and on the campaign trail.
Obama participates in a round of local affiliate TV interviews today focused on the issue and will discuss taxes at campaign events in Iowa on Tuesday.
It also comes as part of a continuing effort by the president to change the subject from jobs and the economy, particularly after Friday's Labor Department report which showed lackluster growth and an unemployment rate steady at 8.2 percent.
Republicans panned Obama's plan, decrying it as a tax increase on small business owners and job creators. They also noted that even top Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have preferred to extend current rates for those earning less than $1 million.
"Almost half a million fewer Americans are working today than the day Barack Obama took office, and we've just come through the worst job creation quarter in two years," said Andrea Saul, spokeswoman for Mitt Romney. "Unlike President Obama, Gov. Romney understands that the last thing we need to do in this economy is raise taxes on anyone."
House Speaker John Boehner plans a vote later this month in the Republican-controlled chamber on a plan that would extend all of the current tax rates through next year. It's expected to pass but then idle in the Democratic Senate.
Obama today refuted claims that his proposal would hurt job creators, saying it would "extend these tax cuts for 97 percent of all small business owners in America. In other words, 97 percent of small businesses fall under the $250,000 threshold."
However, he conceded, the question of what to do about tax rates for higher-income earners probably won't be resolved until after the November election.
"My opponent will fight to keep them in place. I will fight to end them," he said. "But that argument shouldn't threaten you. It shouldn't threaten the 98 percent of Americans who just want to know that their taxes won't go up next year."
"My message to Congress is this: Pass a bill extending the tax cuts for the middle class," he added. "I will sign it tomorrow. Pass it next week, I'll sign it next week. Pass it next - next - well, you get the idea."
Democrats plan to push the "middle-class tax cut" message at a series of battleground events planned for this week, including press conferences with local leaders in New Hampshire, Nevada, Colorado and Florida to "discuss the president's plan for tax reform and responsibly bringing down the deficit while fighting for middle class security," the Obama campaign said.
This post has been updated.