In an eleventh-hour compromise, United States President Barack Obama struck a deal with his entrenched Republican opposition to extend Bush-era tax cuts for another two years.
The cuts, introduced in 2001 by the former President, George W. Bush, were set to expire on December 31 since Congress was forbidden from making them permanent under rules at the time. The situation saw both the White House and the opposition digging in their heels as the deadline approached.
President Barack Obama had initially hoped to preserve the tax cuts for middle-class Americans while allowing the benefit to lapse for the richest two per cent — a distinction that Republicans sought to block.
Under the bargain struck this week, Mr. Obama will have his way at least on one item on the White House agenda — the extension of unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut that will improve the lot of ordinary Americans.
In remarks following the negotiations, Mr. Obama said he “completely disagreed” with the Republican view that the tax cuts, including for the wealthiest, should be made permanent. “A permanent extension of these tax cuts would cost us $700 billion at a time when we need to start focusing on bringing down our deficit,” he said.
He, however, said he would not accept the “chilling prospect” faced by middle-class Americans of a tax rise on January 1, 2011, and unemployment insurance payouts drying up. “Make no mistake; allowing taxes to go up on all Americans would have raised taxes by $3,000 for a typical American family. And that could cost our economy well over a million jobs,” he said.
While the deal marks the breaking of a stalemate that could have spelt economic doom for millions of American households still reeling from the effects of the downturn, some experts noted that Mr. Obama has endangered the support of his liberal base.
Economist Paul Krugman recently argued against precisely such a deal, saying: “Mr. Obama should draw a line in the sand, right here, right now. If Republicans hold out, and taxes go up, he should tell the nation the truth, and denounce the blackmail attempt for what it is.”
Under the bipartisan deal, American families will retain not only the Bush-era tax cuts, but also those introduced under Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama said that in exchange for a temporary extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest, middle-class tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit would persist, as would the American Opportunity Tax benefitting nearly eight million students.
The agreement will also see unemployment insurance extended for a further 13 months, a direct benefit to nearly three million Americans.