WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama called on Congress Monday to pass a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, but only for low- and middle-income households, allowing taxes to increase for those making $250,000 or more a year.
Obama, in a White House news conference, urged Congress to act on the tax cuts, which will expire at the end of the year, just after a dismal jobs report Friday and before his campaign trip to Iowa Tuesday.
In the short speech, Obama attacked what he called the GOP's "trickle-down" economics as he pushed tax cut extensions for what he said was 98 percent of the population and 97 percent of small businesses.
"My message to Congress is this: Pass a bill extending the tax cuts for the middle class," said Obama, surrounded by a dozen people the White House said would benefit.
"As soon as that gets done, we can continue to have a debate about whether it's a good idea to also extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans."
The election, Obama said, would decide the question.
His GOP rival, Mitt Romney, and congressional Republicans rejected his proposal -- Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he "strongly" opposes it -- as they have in a long-running battle over the tax cuts. In 2010, Obama agreed to a two-year extension for all income levels.
"Unlike President Obama, Governor Romney understands that the last thing we need to do in this economy is to raise taxes on anyone," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
The Republican-controlled House plans to vote to extend all tax cuts, not just for the middle class. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama would veto that bill.
Obama said Republicans also say they don't want to raise taxes on the middle class.
"Let's agree to do what we agree on, right?" he said. "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's proposal could face resistance from some Democrats, including Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who favor a cutoff of $1 million per household instead of $250,000.
The White House consulted with Schumer and Pelosi before the speech, Carney said.
Schumer didn't respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) backed the proposal.
Obama's plan puts Long Island members of Congress in a spot. Two years ago, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, broke with Obama over the threshold of $250,000 for extended tax cuts.
"I agree with the president that taxpayers need certainty and that Congress should act now," Israel said Monday. He added, referring to the threshold: "As I've said before, $250,000 is too low for high-cost places like New York."
Reps. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) said they back middle-class tax cuts, but with a higher cutoff.