Rangel: What are Republicans drinking?

Defending working Americans amid a class-based tax fight, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) quipped Wednesday that Republicans must be under the influence to fight so hard on behalf of the nation's wealthiest people.

"This is a nation that is built on the middle class, not built on 2 percent of the people who are blessed with more money than they can ever dream of spending," Rangel said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

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"What is it that these Republicans are drinking to truly believe that these [wealthy folks] are the people that built this great country that has to be held hostage while they fulfill their commitment to less than 2 percent of the population?" he added.

"They're wrong morally [and] they're wrong fiscally."

The remarks came during the heat of the highly partisan debate over how to approach a looming, end-of-the-year expiration of the Bush-era tax rates. Behind President Obama, Democrats want to extend the lower Bush rates only to annual taxable income below $250,000 — a plan that's led Republicans to accuse Democrats of threatening the businesses that fall above that bracket.

Republicans, on the other hand, are pushing to extend the lower tax rate for all incomes, leading to Democratic charges that the GOP is putting wealthy special interests above the nation's fiscal health.

The Senate has already passed the Democrats' plan this month, and the House is expected to vote on both versions of the bill later Wednesday.

Rangel was appearing Wednesday with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), who unveiled a series of principles they're urging congressional leaders to follow as the parties joust over taxes and the other "fiscal cliff" issues that require attention this year. The CPC is advocating for no cuts in entitlement benefits, higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans, healthy cuts in defense spending and a focus on policies that would create middle-class jobs.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who heads the Progressive Caucus, said the principles are designed to remind leaders that a solution to the country's deficit problems shouldn't be limited to Simpson-Bowles-style packages or the Republican budget of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — two plans the CPC members oppose, largely due to cuts in entitlement benefits.

"We're reframing the debate," Ellison said. "We don't want the debate to be Bowles-Simpson and Ryan. We're saying the debate is much broader than that."