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White House: not crafting new tax cut plan

U.S. President Barack Obama waves to supporters after speaking at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada October 24, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lama
U.S. President Barack Obama waves to supporters after speaking at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada October 24, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lama

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will continue to push for middle-class tax cuts as part of his economic agenda, but the White House is not considering a specific new tax cut plan at this time, a spokesman for Obama said on Saturday.

"Moving forward, the president does believe that cutting taxes for middle class families is an important part of his economic agenda. It is something he'll continue to push for," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

He denied a Washington Post report that said the Obama administration is considering a tax cut to increase workers' take-home pay and replace the payroll tax reduction set to expire at the end of the year.

The Post said administration officials believed the economy could use further stimulus despite signs of improvement and were looking at a new tax reduction that could add hundreds of dollars to employees' annual pay and show up in every paycheck.

Earnest said the report was incorrect.

"The administration is not contemplating at this time a tax cut as described in the Post," Earnest told reporters. "I'm not trying to be clever. I'm trying to be as clear as I can."

A White House official told Reuters on Friday evening that the House of Representatives first needed to follow the Senate's lead and renew the payroll tax cuts first implemented in 2011 at Obama's request to provide an economic cushion.

Critics have questioned relying on a measure that cuts funds from the Social Security retirement system.

Just days ahead of the November 6 election, Democrat Obama is in a neck-and-neck battle with Republican challenger Mitt Romney and the struggling economy remains the top issue. Obama has proposed letting George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire for the wealthy, but Romney has said tax increases would damage the economy.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Saturday showed that Obama had a narrow edge over Romney in the polls, 47 percent to 45 percent, with just 12 percent of voters saying they could still change their minds before the election.

The Post said the Obama administration wanted to match the benefits of the payroll tax reduction without tapping into Social Security revenues.

Regardless of the election outcome, the country faces a "fiscal cliff" of automatic across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases at the start of the year unless the White House and Congress can strike a deficit reduction deal.

Obama told the Des Moines Register on Tuesday that he was confident that if re-elected he would secure within six months a deficit-reduction deal with Republicans equivalent to the "grand bargain" he failed to achieve last year.

The goal of such a deal would be to achieve $4 trillion in debt reduction over 10 years.

(Reporting By Lisa Lambert and Mark Felsenthal; Writing by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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