WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, lent his voice Thursday to a growing cadre of moderate Democrats facing tough re-election bids who are bucking the Obama administration and pushing to extend tax cuts at every income level.
"I am committed to voting for the middle-class tax cuts," Chandler said. "But I am inclined to support all the tax cuts, at least temporarily, until the economy gets back on its feet."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky introduced a proposal this week to make the George W. Bush-era tax cuts permanent. President Barack Obama has proposed extending the cuts, which are scheduled to expire at the end of the year, only for households earning less than $250,000.
Thirty-one Democrats signed a letter to the House party leadership this week explaining their support for extending tax cuts to the nation's top earners. Chandler did not sign the letter and had said as recently as mid-August that he was undecided about extending tax cuts for those making $250,000 or more.
His latest statement puts him in the company of most Republicans, including November election opponent Andy Barr, a Lexington attorney.
"Now is not the time to raise taxes on individuals and small businesses," Barr said. "I support permanently extending all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts."
Democrats who signed the letter given to Democratic House leaders noted that the nation's top income earners are responsible for a large chunk of consumer spending and job creation.
"While those in the highest income brackets comprise only two to three percent of American taxpayers, economists estimate that they are responsible for 25 percent of national consumer spending," the Democratic lawmakers wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. "As 70 percent of our economy is driven by consumer spending, this is not the time to jeopardize further growth. It is also estimated that up to one-third of high income taxpayers are small business owners, our nation's job creators and the backbone of our economic recovery."
Extending the tax cuts has proven a hot button issue this election season as Republicans seize on voter frustration over the economy, while Democrats in GOP-leaning districts scramble to buffer themselves against public backlash.
Obama and other Democrats who oppose extending tax cuts for the wealthy have hammered McConnell for not also proposing spending cuts to offset the tax cuts.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that a plan similar to the one McConnell is proposing would require the U.S. to borrow an additional $3.9 trillion during the next decade, though that proposal would be somewhat more expensive than McConnell's because of a difference in the estate tax.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul said Wednesday that he would vote for McConnell's bill even though it would dramatically deepen a federal debt he has spent the last year criticizing.
Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Jack Conway, the state's attorney general, has previously said he favors extending most of the tax cuts, but his campaign has not responded to questions about how he would vote on McCon nell's bill.