House Democrats use Tax Day to publicize cuts for middle class

House Democrats used Tax Day to push back against Republican charges that their policies will increase taxes on the middle class, joining a fight sure to last through November’s elections.

With Republicans and Tea Party protesters having hammered away at Democrats for months over spending and the possibility of new taxes, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and senior Democrats took the tax-filing deadline day as an occasion to tout middle-class tax cuts already enacted by Congress. 

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Democrats cut taxes by more than $800 billion, largely through the Making Work Pay income tax credit in the stimulus and tax credits to help small-business employees get health insurance in the health bill, Pelosi said. She said Congress would push through $285 billion more in tax relief before this session is out by extending expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts for everyone but the wealthiest. 

“House Democrats, working with President Obama, have focused tax relief on middle-class families and small businesses, unlike Republicans, who continue to push for tax breaks for big corporations and the wealthy,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

Republicans had their own figures to point to, charging Democrats with passing $672 billion in tax hikes since the start of the Obama administration. 

Some of those tax hikes break the president’s pledge not to raise increases on individuals making less than $200,000 and couples making less than $250,000, according to Republican memos. For instance, the healthcare bill Obama signed into law last month also includes fines for employers who don’t comply with a mandate requiring employees to obtain health insurance starting in 2014.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the tax breaks in the health bill won’t provide relief for Americans because they’ll see increases in their tax burden elsewhere.

“Spending money in [healthcare] exchanges on subsidizing health insurance by sending money to health insurance companies is not cutting taxes, it’s spending,” said Ryan, the Budget Committee’s ranking member.

Americans are worried about both the economy and the prospect of higher taxes heading into the midterm elections. Most Americans also believe the economy is “extremely important” to their votes this November, making it the top election issue in a Gallup poll released last week. By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans believe their taxes will increase in the next year, according to a separate Gallup survey taken this month. 

With deficits expected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to average nearly $1 trillion over the next decade — a level that’s unsustainable — independent economic experts, Democrats and Republicans have raised the prospect of higher taxes, albeit for different reasons.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, former CBO Director Alice Rivlin and White House adviser Paul Volcker have said in recent weeks that taxes may need to be raised alongside spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs to rein in the long-term growth rate of debt, which would weaken the economy if it continued on its current path.

The Senate Republicans’ campaign arm released a Web commercial Thursday arguing that taxes are already too high because spending is out control.

“Barack Obama keeps spending our money, which raises the national debt ceiling to the point that Americans may soon bow down to their Chinese overlords,” the ad says.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Democrats will end up expanding government and raising taxes because they have a fundamentally different view of the country, and that has Americans upset.

“[The] problem with Reid, Pelosi, Obama is that they think, ‘Washington knows best — send us the money and we’ll decide what’s best for you,’ ” Boehner said Thursday.

Boehner has warned of a value-added tax (VAT), which is similar to a sales tax and is used in European countries, if Democrats continue to control Washington. His office released a letter Thursday from a Carnegie Mellon economics professor suggesting that a VAT could hamper the U.S. economy and make it more like a European welfare state.

“The United States should avoid locking the country into a low-growth future,” wrote Professor Allan Meltzer.

The attacks from Boehner have drawn sharp reactions from both senior and rank-and-file Democrats.

Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), whose district neighbors Boehner’s, said he’s had to field constituent service requests from the GOP leader’s district. He said Boehner and Republicans are using skewed statistics that are contributing to a “fear” of government expressed by Tea Party groups.

“Mr. Boehner’s misinformation campaign is notorious,” Driehaus said. “Any time Mr. Boehner wants to come to Ohio, where he spends little time ... I’m open to debate him.”

Jay Heflin and Michael O’Brien contributed to this article.