Vice President Joe Biden urged Congress to extend U.S. jobless benefits and tax cuts for the middle class, saying that a failure to do so would damage the economy.
In the administration’s weekly radio and Internet address, Biden said a tax increase and an end of benefits for 2 million jobless would drive up unemployment further and would slow economic growth.
“Congress must extend these needed unemployment benefits before it goes home for the year,” he said. “And it must bolster economic growth by preserving tax cuts for our middle class.”
Lawmakers have until the end of the year to agree on how to extend expiring tax cuts, with President Barack Obama pushing for an extension of the lower rates on the first $200,000 of an individual’s annual income and the first $250,000 in yearly earnings for married couples filing joint returns. Republicans are backing an extension of the tax cuts for all income levels.
“By raising taxes in order to fuel higher spending, we threaten to restart the recession, pushing millions of Americans out of work,” Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois said in the Republican weekly address.
The administration contends that that cost of extending the tax cuts for higher earners -- $700 billion over 10 years -- is too much while budget deficits are at record highs.
Kirk said Congress should use spending cuts, rather than tax increases, to balance the budget.
Congress must also decide whether to extend jobless benefits for the fourth time since December 2007.
Biden said the economy is showing “encouraging signs,” such as five straight quarters of growth and the creation of more than 1 million jobs in the private sector this year.
However, the Labor Department reported yesterday that the unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in November as the economy added fewer jobs than forecast.
“There’s no doubt these are tough times,” Biden said. “ But we are slowly but surely fighting our way back, moving forward.”
The vice president gave this week’s address because Obama was traveling back from Afghanistan last night after an unannounced visit with U.S. troops.