July 10 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama faced off from afar in two contested states over the administration’s proposal to extend tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year while letting rates rise for those earning more.
Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, portrayed Obama’s proposal as a tax increase, instead of maintaining the status quo for some.
“For job creators and small business, he announced a massive tax increase,” Romney said today at a town hall-style event at Central High School in Grand Junction, Colorado. “The very idea of raising taxes on small business and job creators at the very time we need more jobs is the sort of thing only an extreme liberal can come up with.”
About 1,000 miles to the east, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Obama accused Romney and congressional Republicans of holding middle-class tax cuts “hostage” as a tactic to pressure Democrats to extend tax cuts for wealthy Americans who don’t need the help.
“Why don’t you compromise?” Obama said, speaking at Kirkwood Community College. “Let’s agree when we can agree.”
“If Congress doesn’t act, that tax hike could cost up to $2,200 for a family of four,” Obama said, and also “be a big blow to our entire economy.”
Romney, speaking in a western Colorado community bordered by rugged rock formations known as the Book Cliffs, said Obama’s policies have hurt the nation’s economic recovery.
“This old-style liberalism of a bigger and bigger government and bigger and bigger taxes has got to end and we will end it in November,” he said.
Asked by a voter whether he would announce his vice presidential running mate before the Republican National Convention in Tampa in late August, Romney declined to say.
“I can’t give you the time-line for that,” he said. “That’s a decision we will make down the road.”
Colorado and Iowa are among the roughly half-dozen states where the two men are focusing their campaign time because strategists from both parties see them as most likely to determine the outcome of the Nov. 6 election.
The president is asking Congress to pass a one-year extension of tax cuts for married couples making less than $250,000 a year in adjusted gross income and $200,000 for individuals. The cuts were first enacted during President George W. Bush’s administration.
Romney and Republican congressional leaders favor continuation of all the tax cuts, which are set to expire at year’s end. In addition, Romney proposes further lowering individual tax rates by 20 percent across the board.
Obama’s proposal, which he announced yesterday at the White House, is aimed at highlighting his differences with Romney and other Republicans. Obama has been telling voters at campaign appearances that to pay for $5 trillion in proposed tax cuts, Romney may have to eliminate tax deductions that middle-class voters count on.
“This election will determine our economic future for the next generation,” Obama said at the community college. “We don’t need more top down economics.”
Out of Touch
The president’s pitch on taxes was paired with an effort to depict Romney as a multi-millionaire who is out of touch with the lives of most Americans. Obama and his allies have accused Romney in recent days of hiding his fortune and refusing to release multiple years of tax returns.
The Obama re-election team last night released an “Iowa Report” that concludes Romney can say his proposed tax cuts won’t add to the deficit only if the Republican candidate has “a secret plan to raise taxes on middle-class Iowans.”
The report says Romney’s tax plans could affect 239,000 Iowa households with mortgages; 246,000 that make charitable contributions; 289,000 that deduct state and local taxes; and 428,000 that aren’t taxed on health benefits through their employers.
In Cedar Rapids, Obama stopped at the home of Jason and Ali McLaughlin, a public school principal and account manager, and is visiting Kirkwood Community College. The McLaughlins are expecting their second child and had a combined household income last year of $82,000, according to biographical information from Obama’s campaign. If the tax cuts in question expired, the couple would pay about $2,000 more in taxes, Obama’s campaign said.
The tax debate comes as a Washington Post-ABC News poll published today shows a deadlocked race. Romney and Obama are tied at 47 percent among registered voters, essentially unchanged from a late May survey.
Colorado and Iowa have a combined 15 Electoral College votes of the 270 needed to win the White House, illustrating how close a race the two campaigns are expecting. Iowa has fared better during the recover with an unemployment rate of 5.1 percent in May. Colorado’s jobless rate was 8.1 percent. Obama carried both states with 54 percent of the vote in 2008.
Romney’s stop in Mesa County, which includes Grand Junction, is in keeping with his other visits in Colorado since he became the presumptive nominee. Like his first two stops, this one is in an area dominated by Republicans.
Mesa County backed Senator John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican nominee, over Obama, 64 percent to 34.5 percent.
Later today, Romney is also scheduled to visit Colorado Springs, on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains in the state. Obama, who declared the state a federal disaster area, visited the city late last month to tour devastation from the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.
Romney has yet to campaign in parts of Colorado most likely to determine the outcome in the state, including suburban areas around Denver, the largest city.
The unemployment rate in Mesa County was 9 percent in May, according to Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
Romney is seeking to blunt the push in the state from Democrats, who held their national convention in Denver four years ago and have courted Colorado’s growing Hispanic population.
Romney is scheduled to speak tomorrow in Houston at a convention of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. The appearance presents a delicate setting for the man seeking to defeat the nation’s first black president.