CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Clashing over the economy, President Barack Obama challenged Mitt Romney to join him in allowing tax hikes for rich Americans like them, needling his Republican rival yesterday to "compromise to help the middle class."

Romney dismissed the idea and returned fire on a sensitive topic, calling Obama the real "outsourcer-in-chief."

They fought for any advantage from Iowa and Colorado, two of the contested states drawing intense campaign attention. Romney redirected charges that he had sent jobs overseas when he worked in private equity.

"He's run some interesting attack ads on me on that topic," Romney said. "It is interesting that when it comes to outsourcing that this president has been outsourcing a good deal of American jobs himself by putting money into energy companies that end up making their products outside the United States."

The former Bain Capital executive has been under heat from within his own party over his response to relentless attacks that he shipped jobs overseas. His campaign staff made sure to distribute a newspaper story critical of Obama's own outsourcing record, loading up every media seat on the campaign plane with it.

"If there's an outsourcer-in-chief, it's the president of the United States, not the guy who's running to replace him," Romney said in Grand Junction, Colo.

The rhetorical standoff on taxes and jobs did little to change the underlying narrative of a stalled economy, deadlocked Washington and tight election. Obama, running for re-election under the weight of high unemployment, has shifted to pinning blame on Romney and congressional Republicans over looming tax increases.

Obama wants a one-year extension of tax cuts for households earning less than $250,000, covering most taxpayers. Romney supports extending the federal tax cuts, first signed by George W. Bush, for all income earners. Congress is under deadline to act by year's end or everyone's taxes go up.

"Doesn't it make sense for us to agree to keep taxes low for 98 percent of Americans who are working hard and can't afford a tax hike right now?" Obama said. "What do you normally do if you agree on 98 percent and disagree on 2 percent? Why don't you compromise to help the middle class?"

Romney saw no such agreement. "They very idea of raising taxes on small businesses and job creators at the very time we need more jobs is the sort of thing only an extreme liberal can come up with," he said.

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