WASHINGTON – Seeking to give anxious Democrats a boost ahead of the November elections, President Barack Obama is pitching a trio of economic initiatives Wednesday and voicing unwavering opposition to Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy, an issue on which he's looking to draw a stark contrast with Republicans.
The White House said the package of infrastructure investments and business tax incentives Obama was to outline during a speech in Cleveland is meant to put the economy on a path toward long-term growth while also allowing for some immediate job creation.
But with Washington's already heated partisanship likely to escalate as the midterm elections approach, it's uncertain whether Congress could pass any of the incentives in time to help the economy — and Democrats — before November.
Obama is asking Congress to consider three proposals:
• A $50 billion infrastructure investment to rebuild and repair the nation's roads, railways and runways.
• A permanent extension of research and development tax credits for businesses.
• Tax breaks to let businesses quickly write off 100 percent of their spending on new plants and equipment through 2011.
Senior administration officials said the three proposals would be the full extent of new economic policies the president would announce before the midterms, eliminating the possibility of a pre-election freeze on payroll taxes, an idea supported by many businesses.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the president's speech, said Obama would draw a contrast between his economic proposals and those of the GOP, going so far as to give his remarks in the same city where House Minority Leader John Boehner outlined the Republican economic agenda last month.
As he often does, Obama will paint Republican leaders as seeking a return to what he calls the failed economic policies of the past, singling out Boehner's call to extend tax cuts for the wealthy that were enacted by former President George W. Bush.
Obama and Democrats have long said they want to renew the tax cuts only for households earning under $250,000 a year, a policy difference with Republicans that administration officials said Obama would portray as a difference in the parties' values.
"This economy is not hurting people that make $800,000 a year," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday. "It's hurting families that are making $40,000 a year.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the president's focus on the minority leader's speech showed that the White House is out of touch with Americans and "in full panic mode about the November elections."
Some of the proposals Obama was to outline Wednesday have enjoyed broad bipartisan support in the past. That creates a dilemma for Republicans, who could be forced to choose between handing the president legislative victories ahead of the election or saying no to ideas they've previously supported.
The White House made no apologies for unveiling its proposals during the contentious pre-election months.
"We understand what season we've entered in Washington," Gibbs said. Even if Congress doesn't take up Obama's new proposals before the elections, Gibbs said, "the president and the economic team still believe that these represent some very important ideas."
Mindful of the public's anger over the mounting federal deficit, the White House has carefully avoided calling the new economic proposals a stimulus plan, like the $814 billion economic package Congress passed last year.
Even with fresh proposals in hand, officials said the president would continue to prod the Senate to pass a bill that calls for about $12 billion in tax breaks for small businesses and a $30 billion fund to help unfreeze small business lending. Republicans have likened the bill to the unpopular bailout of the financial industry.