December 4, 2010 / 11:01 AM / 9 years ago

Biden turns up heat in U.S. tax debate

* Biden chides Republicans, says they favoring the rich

* Says November jobless numbers shows need for action

By Alister Bull

WASHINGTON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged lawmakers on Saturday to extend middle-class tax cuts and aid for the jobless, fanning a political debate between Democrats and Republicans that is set to intensify next week.

Biden, delivering the weekly White House radio and Internet address because President Barack Obama was flying home from Afghanistan, framed the issue as Democrats sticking up for the middle class while Republicans protected richer Americans.

“I just don’t agree with the folks who’ve said we can’t afford a lifeline for Americans who lost their jobs during the worst recession in generations, but we can afford to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent,” he said.

Negotiations will continue next week to strike a compromise over extending Bush-era tax cuts that are set to end on Dec. 31, while finding more money for long-term jobless aid.

Unemployment payments, which had already been extended by Congress for to up to 99 weeks from a traditional 26 weeks, expire this month for 2 million Americans whose benefits have now run out.

Democrats want them extended for another year, and also want to make tax cuts permanent for families who make less than $250,00 a year, or $200,000 for individuals.

Republicans argue tax cuts must be made permanent for everyone to avoid sapping spending while the economy is still weak. They also say Congress should have a plan to pay for the estimated $65 billion cost of extending jobless aid, in order to avoid adding to the country’s high and rising debts.

NEEDY CHRISTMAS

Three weeks before Christmas, Biden stressed it was not the time to sever support for those in need.

“Cutting unemployment insurance is not only not smart, it’s not right either,” Biden said. “That’s no message to send in the season of hope.”

Obama, who has asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Budget Director Jack Lew to represent the White House in talks that began on Tuesday, has urged Congress to act before lawmakers leave town for the Christmas holidays.

Obama also wants Congress to ratify a new nuclear weapons treaty he says is vital for U.S. relations with Russia.

The White House says extending jobless aid is an important support for the U.S. recovery when it is hard to find work. The gloomy state of the labor market was underlined by data on Friday that showed the jobless rate rising to 9.8 percent in November from 9.6 percent the month before.

“Friday’s jobs report was a sobering reminder of that. While we saw another month of job growth in November, it just wasn’t enough,” Biden said.

The Senate will vote on Saturday to make tax cuts permanent for families making less than $250,000.

Biden urged the Senate to approve the measure, which has already been backed by the U.S. House of Representatives, but it has little chance of passing due to a lack of support.

Republicans criticized the vote as a political stunt.

“The current leaders of Congress should not move forward with plans that were just rejected by the American people,” said Senator Mark Kirk.

Republicans took back control of the House and increased their weight in the Senate in Nov. 2 congressional elections in which voters punished Obama’s Democrats for tepid economic growth and high unemployment. (Reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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