President Barack Obama continued to focus on the U.S. economy Monday, as he tried to persuade Americans that his policies are succeeding against the nation's economic recession. During an informal discussion with families and small business owners in Virginia, Mr. Obama talked about the economy and chances for cooperation with minority Republicans on key issues.
The president has used this approach before to get out his message, meeting with a family in their home and then expanding the discussion to include neighbors and local businesspeople about what he sees as the benefits of government economic stimulus spending.
On Monday, it was the Nicholas-Armstrong family of Fairfax, Virginia - a husband and wife, both employed, who the White House describes as cautiously hopeful about the nation's recovery, despite having suffered from the economic downturn.
Answering questions in the couple's backyard, Mr. Obama made this point about a major issue linked to the economy - the question of extending Bush-era tax cuts that are due to expire this year.
"We're in this wrestling match with [House of Representatives Minority Leader] John Boehner and [Senate Republican leader] Mitch McConnell about the last two to three percent [the highest earning Americans] where, on average, we would be giving them $100,000 [in tax cuts] for people making a million dollars or more, which in and of itself would be okay, except to do it, we would have to borrow $700 billion over the course of 10 years. We just can't afford it," said President Obama.
The "wrestling match" involves Mr. Obama's goal of renewing tax reductions approved under former President George W. Bush for individuals earning up to $200,000 and families up to $250,000, while tax cuts for higher-income individuals and families would be allowed to expire.
House of Representatives Minority Leader Boehner surprised members of his Republican Party when he said on CBS television's Face the Nation program Sunday that he would vote to extend tax reductions for middle class Americans, if it was the only choice facing Republicans in a floor vote.
"If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I'll vote for them," said John Boehner. "But I have been making the point now for months that we need to extend all of the current rates for all Americans, if we want to get our economy going again and we want to get jobs in America."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs welcomed what he called the change in Boehner's position. But he added that time would tell whether Republicans continue supporting "failed policies" that brought about the U.S. economic crisis.
But on Monday, signs pointed to continuing strong opposition from other Republicans to steps that would result in higher taxes.
As the Senate resumed work, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced he would introduce legislation to keep all existing tax reductions in place.
"We can't let the people who have been hit the hardest by this recession, and who need to create the jobs that will get us out of it, foot the bill for the Democrat's two year adventure in expanded government," said Mitch McConnell.
A key House Republican leader, Virginia Representative Eric Cantor, vowed to stop any effort that would raise taxes, saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should allow a vote on similar legislation to prevent any increase.
Whether on taxes or legislation designed to help small businesses, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid says Americans want Democrats and Republicans to stop playing politics.
"The owners of these businesses aren't interested in partisan rhetoric, and neither are the people who they have had to lay off or the unemployed they have had to turn away," said Harry Reid.
President Obama compared the U.S. economic recession to a bad automobile accident - one, he added, that could have been prevented with better economic policies and financial system rules in place.
The president described as critical a need to ensure that banks begin lending more money to small businesses, saying that the government needs to make a direct link between the federal financial assistance banks have received, and the money they are actually lending.