Obama team urges supporters to pressure Congress on tax rates

President Obama’s team on Sunday rallied supporters from the 2012 campaign, urging them to pressure Congress to extend only middle-class tax cuts, as deficit talks appeared to hit an impasse.

“Right now, President Obama is asking you to think about what $2,000 a year means to you and your family — because Congress needs to hear it,” said Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for the president’s successful reelection bid, in an email.

“President Obama is asking Congress to do the right thing and act before the New Year, but he needs our help. We've got a good track record here: When we make our voices heard and urge Congress to take action — whether it's about health care, student loans, Wall Street reform, or "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" — they listen,” Cutter added.

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The $2,000 figure represents the estimated amount an average middle-class family would see their taxes rise if Congress fails to extend the expiring Bush-era tax rates by the end of the year.

The White House is calling for extending the rates immediately for families making less than $250,000 a year, while allowing rates to rise for the wealthy. Republicans, though, have called for extending all Bush-era rates across the board, and believe the threat of tax rises could force Democrats to accept larger spending cuts or entitlement reforms in deficit talks.

The Obama email asks supporters to share stories about the effect a tax hike would have on their finances and to ask friends and family to back the president’s push. 

The email is the latest move as both sides seek to rally public support as Washington works to craft a deficit-reduction package. Lawmakers are seeking to stave off the impending tax rate rises and large automatic spending cuts set to take effect in January, the “fiscal cliff” economists warn could bring a new recession.

Public signs suggest negotiations are at an impasse after congressional Republicans last week rejected an initial White House proposal.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the initial administration offer, which included $1.6 trillion in tax increases, $400 billion in reduced entitlement spending and a number of additional stimulus measures, was “not a serious proposal.”

In an interview aired Sunday, the House Republican leader said he was “flabbergasted” when he saw the offer. 

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on a Sunday show blitz, however, defended the package as a “comprehensive, very carefully designed mix of savings and tax rates,” and said Republicans needed to show their cards and present their own proposal.

“I think right now, the best thing to do is for them to come to us and say, look, here's what we think makes sense,” Geithner said. “What we can't do is try to figure out what's going to be good for them. They have to come tell us.”

Republicans have signaled they will accept new revenues in a deal, but from closing loopholes and exemptions, not from tax rate rises.

Democrats, however, insist that any deal will include raising rates on the top 2 percent of income earners, those families who make more than $250,000 a year. 

Geithner on Sunday said higher tax rates on the wealthy was not negotiable. “There's not going to be an agreement without rates going up,” Geithner warned. 

But the White House and Republicans have continued to jockey for public support, looking for any advantage to push talks in their direction.

Last week, the president held an event at the White House with middle-class families he said would be hit hard if tax rates rose in 2013. The president unveiled a social media push, using the hashtag #my2K and asking backers to take to Twitter and push for his tax proposal. And on Friday, Obama returned to the trail, visiting a toy factory in Pennsylvania, to hammer his message.

At the stop, Obama said GOP lawmakers were giving families a “lump of coal” for the holiday season by failing to quickly extend the middle-class rates. 

Obama also met with top business leaders from large corporations to discuss the deficit talks last week, and on Tuesday is slated to meet with a number of state governors, including GOP Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.).

House Republicans on Sunday said they would meet with governors as well, and with small-business owners to highlight the dangers of the nation falling off the fiscal cliff.