The White House is taking its “fiscal cliff” fight with Republicans directly to the group that helped put President Obama in office for a second term – Latinos.
In a message released Friday targeting Hispanics, the White House says that reaching a fiscal cliff --where taxes would rise and spending would drop unless an agreement could be reached by Jan. 1-- would have serious repercussions for Latinos.
According to the message, President Obama is working to avoid a move to “hold middle-class families hostage while we debate tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.”
“The fact is Hispanic-American families just can't afford tax increases right now, but that's what will happen if Congress fails to act,” said the statement, signed by Cecilia Muñoz, White House Director of the Domestic Policy Council. “In fact, the median Hispanic family of four would see their income taxes rise by $2,200. An astounding 99 percent of Hispanic families will be affected.”
House Speaker John Boehner, who has been leading the 'fiscal cliff' talks for Republicans, says any increase in the debt limit must be matched by greater amounts of deficit reduction. Obama is demanding tax rate hikes on the rich, using the prospect of a worse alternative and the momentum of his re-election as leverage.
The president and Boehner spoke Friday, but made no progress on a budget agreement, according to published reports.
“Even if the president got the tax rate hike that he wanted, understand that we would continue to see trillion-dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see,” Boehner said to reporters after his talk with the president. “If the president doesn’t agree with our proposal I believe that he’s got an obligation to families and small businesses to offer a plan of his own, a plan that could pass both chambers of the Congress."
“We’re ready and eager to talk to the president about such a plan.”
The White House's Friday appeal to Latinos follows a warning by civil rights group National Council of La Raza on Wednesday about the dire consequences for Hispanics of a fiscal cliff or budget deal that would include steep cuts in government programs.
“The ‘fiscal cliff’ … would return the unemployment rate to more than 9 percent nationally,” said an NCLR statement. “Latinos face an unemployment rate of 10 percent and cannot afford reckless actions that threaten to drag our economy back into recession.”
The national unemployment rate at present is less than 8 percent.
The debt ceiling gives Republicans a powerful weapon to extract further deficit reduction too, contributing to the current stalemate.
Both sides have warned that plunging off the fiscal cliff — letting income taxes increase for all and deep cuts in defense and other programs kick in — could rattle the fragile economic recovery.
The government is on track to hit its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit later this month. And while the Treasury can keep the government functioning through early next year, President Barack Obama is bluntly insisting that any deal on the fiscal cliff include an end to brinkmanship on the debt ceiling.
Latino leaders also warn that spending cuts in government programs could deeply hurt Latinos, millions of whom depend on entitlement programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and earned income tax credit.
Last year, Republicans agreed to the debt ceiling scheme only after the White House agreed to steep cuts in spending that virtually matched the increase in the debt ceiling, a deal Obama is not offering to make this time.
"To demand a political price for Congress to do its job responsibly, which is to ensure that the United States of America pays its bills, would be wildly irresponsible," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
This story includes material from The Associated Press.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente