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President Barack Obama is calling for a one year extension of the Bush tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 a year, while reiterating his opposition to extending the tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans.

“I’m not proposing anything radical here,” Obama argued from the East Room of the White House on Monday afternoon. “We all say that we should extend tax cuts for 98 percent of the people…so we should all agree to extend the tax cuts for the middle class.”

Republicans oppose Obama’s plan, insisting that all of the Bush tax cuts — including the breaks for those who earn more than $250,000 annually — must be extended. In his remarks, Obama stressed that the debate over extending tax cuts for the wealthy shouldn’t stop Congress from acting to extend the middle class tax cuts.

“Let’s not hold the vast majority of Americans and our entire economy hostage while we debate the merits of another tax cut for the wealthy,” Obama said.

“At the beginning of the last decade, Congress passed trillions of dollars in tax cuts that benefited the wealthiest Americans more than anybody else. And we were told that it would lead to more jobs and higher incomes for everybody and that prosperity would start at the top, but then trickle down,” he continued. “And what happened? The wealthy got wealthier, but most Americans struggled.”

“We don’t need more top-down economics. We’ve tried that theory. That’s why I believe it’s time to let tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, folks like myself, to expire,” Obama added.

Video of President Obama’s full remarks is below, courtesy of MSNBC:

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Obama’s announcement is certain to set off a contentious Congressional debate, which may pivot the campaign from jobs to taxes. The latter is far more favorable ground for the president; as Obama noted in his speech, “poll after poll” shows that a majority of Americans agree with his position.

Extending the middle class tax cuts would also help America avoid the so called “fiscal cliff” on January 1st, when the tax cuts are set to expire at the same time as the deep automatic spending cuts agreed to in the 2011 debt ceiling deal take effect.

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