President Obama repeated his central position on taxes Monday, saying that Bush-era, income-tax cuts should be extended for the middle class—"the people whose wages didn't rise"—but not the top earners because doing so would cost the federal government $700 billion in lost revenue.
"It is an irresponsible thing to do," he said, adding "I can't give tax cuts to the top 2 percent of Americans...and lower the deficit at the same time, I don't have the math. I would love to do it."
Taxes—particularly those on personal income—are the hot-button issue of the midterm election, with current and former Washington leaders weighing in on a daily basis.
The president made his remarks during aliveone-hour town hall program on CNBC Monday.
Republicans are pushing for a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, applying to all income groups, while the Democrats want to exclude the two top-income brackets. Essentially, that affects incomes starting at $200,000 (individuals) and $250,000 (couples).
A CNBC poll ( conducted by Public Opinion Strategies/Hart Research) shows 55 percent think increasing taxes will slow the economy and kill jobs. Only 40 percent, however, believe tax cuts should be cancelled for higher-income Americans.
The issue has already spurred some high-level jousting, such as that between President Obama and Congressional Republicans, House leader John Boehner of Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Former Fed chief Alan Greenspan jumped into the debate last week, saying taxes must be raised to pay down the budget deficit.
In an effort to put taxes in a positive context, the President, pointing his finger as he is wont to do, said, "Our tax rates are lower now than they were under Ronald Reagan.”