Obama urges ‘immediate’ tax cut extension for middle class Pressure mounts over pipeline decision

WASHINGTON, Dec 1, (Agencies): US President Barack Obama urged Congress Saturday to immediately extend a tax cut for middle class Americans, arguing the move will give 98 percent of families and 97 percent of small businesses certainty that will lead to faster economic growth.
“Congress can do that right now. They can give families like yours a sense of security going into the New Year,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.
The president made the comments one day after he traveled to a toy factory in Pennsylvania to press his case for a plan to stop the US economy tipping off the so-called fiscal cliff, when automatic tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts come into force on Jan 1.


Stalemate
Republicans have rejected Obama’s first offer to end the stalemate surrounding the matter as “ridiculous” and negotiations between the two sides have hit a roadblock with just a month to go, punctuated by the holiday season, until the deadline.
Top Republican John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, has warned that talks on averting a year-end tax and spending crunch, which could tip the economy back into recession, are going nowhere.
The showdown is a crucial test for newly re-elected Obama in gridlocked Washington, with implications for his capacity to enact an ambitious second term agenda.


Obama campaigned on raising taxes on households earning $250,000 a year or more to pay for deficit reductions and to fund education spending and other plans to boost the economy and improve life for the nation’s middle class.
But congressional Republicans have opposed tax increases of any kind.
In his address, the president said it was “unacceptable” for Republicans to “hold middle class tax cuts hostage” because they refuse to let tax rates go up on the wealthiest Americans.
But he suggested that Congress, as a first step, do what both parties agree on and pass a bill that would keep middle class taxes low.


Obama said the Senate had already passed such a measure, and that Democrats in the House were ready to do the same.
“And if we can just get a few House Republicans on board, I’ll sign this bill as soon as Congress sends it my way,” the president promised.
However, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said in a weekly Republican address that comprehensive tax reform and reducing the unsustainable debt were crucial to fixing the “fiscal cliff” problem.
“The President has said he wants a so-called balanced approach to solve this crisis,” he said. “But what he proposed this week was a classic bait and switch on the American people — a tax increase double the size of what he campaigned on, billions of dollars in new stimulus spending and an unlimited, unchecked authority to borrow from the Chinese.”


Meanwhile, Obama faces mounting pressure as he embarks on a second term over a decision he had put off during his re-election campaign: whether to approve the $7 billion proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline between the US and Canada.
On its surface, it’s a choice between the promise of jobs and economic growth and environmental concerns. But it’s also become a proxy for a much broader fight over American energy consumption and climate change, amplified by Superstorm Sandy and the conclusion of an election that was all about the economy.
Environmental activists and oil producers alike are looking to Obama’s decision as a harbinger of what he’ll do on climate and energy in the next four years. Both sides are holding out hope that, freed from the political constraints of re-election, the president will side with them on this and countless related issues down the road.


“The broader climate movement is absolutely looking at this administration’s Keystone XL decision as a really significant decision to signal that dirty fuels are not acceptable in the U.S.,” Danielle Droitsch, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.
Once content with delays that have so far kept the pipeline from moving forward at full speed, opponents of Keystone XL have launched protests in recent weeks at the White House and in Texas urging Obama to nix the project outright. Meanwhile, support for the pipeline appears to be picking up steam on Capitol Hill.
But Obama has shown little urgency about the pipeline, which would carry crude oil about 1,700 miles (2,735 kilometers) from western Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. The pipeline requires State Department approval because it crosses an international boundary.


The pipeline became an issue in the campaign, and Obama put it on hold while a plan was worked out to avoid routing it through Nebraska’s environmentally sensitive Sandhills region. TransCanada, the company applying to build it, revised the route, but that caused the lengthy environmental review process to start over. In the meantime, the company split the project into two parts, starting construction in August on a southern segment between Oklahoma and Texas even as it waits for approval for the northern segment that crosses the Canadian border.


Although the lower leg didn’t require Obama’s sign-off, he gave it his blessing in March anyway, irking environmental activists who see the pipeline as a slap to efforts to reduce oil consumption and fend off climate change. “At a time when we are desperately trying to bend the emissions curve downwards, it is wrong to open up a new source of energy that is more carbon intensive and makes the problem worse,” wrote former Vice President Al Gore, now a climate activist, in an email.
Still, in an otherwise highly polarized political climate, access to affordable energy has become a rare issue with bipartisan appeal.
“It’s just a no-brainer,” Democratic Sen Mary Landrieu told The Associated Press. “Canada is going to export this oil. It’s either going to come to the US or it’s going to go to Russia or China. Even Democrats that aren’t really excited about oil and gas development generally can figure that out.”

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