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As Election Nears, Obama To Challenge GOP on Economy, Tax Cuts

Striving to gain the upper hand on a crucial political issue, President Barack Obama is faulting Republicans for refusing to help him turn around the sluggish economy or support some proposed new tax breaks for businesses that the GOP has backed in the past.

President Barack Obama
Photo By: Pete Souza
President Barack Obama

Obama has argued that case many times recently. But on Friday he takes it to an audience of millions, including many who will vote in November's decisive congressional elections, during a nationally televised news conference at 11 am EST from the White House East Room.

Before taking questions, Obama was to open the session with a statement on the economy and the stakes in the elections and, according to a White House official, announce that he has chosen one of his longtime economic advisers, Austan Goolsbee, to be the chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers. The official spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity because the formal announcement had not been made.

Goolsbee, 41, a University of Chicago professor of economics, was Obama's senior economic adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign. He already has been confirmed to the council by the Senate and will need no further confirmation. He replaces Christina Romer, who left the administration last week to return to teaching at the University of California, Berkeley.

With Democrats in danger of losing control of the House, Obama is trying to convince voters that they have a choice between going back to GOP policies that led to the economic crisis or going forward with policies he says will grow the economy over the long term.

Feeling pressure to show he is doing everything possible to repair the economy, Obama this week unveiled a tax-and-spend package that would expand and permanently extend a tax credit for research and development that lapsed in 2009, let businesses write off 100 percent of their investments in equipment and plants through 2011, and spend $50 billion immediately on highway, rail and airport projects.

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio has offered an alternative plan(click on link to watch his CNBC interview): freezing tax rates for two years and cutting back government spending to 2008 levels.

Obama also wants to let taxes rise next year on the highest wage earners while keeping existing tax cuts for families with annual incomes of $250,000 or less and individuals making $200,000 a year maximum. Republicans insist on keeping the lower tax rates for higher incomes, arguing that doing so would help small businesses too. Obama argues that's a financial burden the country can't afford to bear.

By law, taxes will rise for everyone next year unless Congress acts.

But even some of Obama's own Democrats and his former budget director, Peter Orszag, have suggested a compromise that would temporarily extend all the tax cuts that were enacted in 2001 and 2003 under President George W. Bush, to leave more money in consumers' pockets and give the economy some breathing room, before the tax cuts are allowed to expire entirely in a year or two.

Obama campaigned for president on a promise not to raise taxes on the middle class. He insisted Thursday during a speech in Cleveland that tax cuts for that income group must not be held "hostage any longer."

At the news conference, Obama also is expected to challenge Republicans to allow a Senate vote on a bill that calls for about $12 billion in tax breaks for small businesses. It also includes a $30 billion fund to encourage banks to lend to small business. Republicans have likened the bill to the unpopular bailout of the financial industry.

Obama has blamed Republicans for stalling the bill. The measure is on the agenda when the Senate returns next week. The House has already passed many of the provisions in the Senate bill.

Friday's news conference will be just the second time this year that Obama has met alone with reporters at the White House.

He has appeared before the White House press corps several times with visiting foreign leaders. Obama last held a solo White House news conference in May to discuss the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

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