JEFFERSON CITY — Emblematic of the stalemate in Washington, Missouri's two U.S. senators staked out opposing positions Wednesday on whether to raise taxes on the wealthy as part of a solution to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff facing the nation's economy.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said she supports President Barack Obama's insistence that top income-earners should face higher tax rates to help trim the U.S. deficit. But Republican Sen. Roy Blunt said he opposes increasing the tax rates for anyone.
Their opposite positions tracked the partisan divide in Washington, where the Democratic president and Republican House leaders each are calling upon the other to compromise.
The fiscal cliff refers to a package of automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to occur unless Congress takes action to avoid it before the end of the year. About $109 billion of annual spending cuts would be split equally between military and domestic programs, and all the tax breaks enacted under former President George W. Bush would expire. Obama reiterated his stance Wednesday that the tax breaks should be extended only for those earning less than $250,000 annually. That would allow the top tax rate to revert to 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent.
McCaskill said she supports raising taxes on the wealthy, though she left room for negotiation on whether that income threshold should be set at $250,000 or $500,000 or $1 million.
"It's impossible to do this, to get where we need to be in terms of our debt and our deficit, without additional revenues," McCaskill said in a conference call with reporters. "I certainly support the principle that the president is so strongly stating — that some of that needs to be with those at the very top of the economic ladder paying a little more."
Blunt, who held a separate conference call with reporters Wednesday, said he was willing to "make that tax structure fairer and flatter" by changing or eliminating some of the existing tax deductions. But Blunt said he remained opposed to raising tax rates for anyone, the wealthy included.
"I just don't think increasing marginal tax rates is the right thing for the economy," Blunt said.
Blunt and McCaskill each pointed to the recent elections in support of their positions. Obama won re-election while campaigning on a need for the wealthy to pay more in taxes while Republicans who have insisted on a continuation of across-the-board tax breaks maintained control of the U.S. House. McCaskill also won re-election last week, though her Senate race against Republican challenger Todd Akin hinged largely on other issues. Blunt was not up for re-election this year.