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Obama talks economy, Iraq

From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Obama turned his focus back to the economy today, the No. 1 issue on voters minds, slamming McCain for what he characterized as a "trickle down" approach to economic policy that would not help average Americans.

He also spoke about the decision to give his convention speech at Denver's Invesco Field and said comments by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki suggested the leader shared his view about how to approach the matter of withdrawing troops from Iraq and asked that McCain and the administration listen to Maliki.

After a week of talking about issues from patriotism to faith-based initiatives, but very little about the economy or his rival for the presidency, Obama turned up the heat again Monday as he sought to highlight the differences between himself and McCain.
 
The Illinois senator summed up his plans for how to help struggling families, including through a middle class tax cut and the $50 billion second stimulus package he has urged Congress to pass among other already announced proposals.

And he answered the criticisms from McCain and his rivals today and recently, who have accused him of wanting to raise taxes, even on lower income people.

"If Sen. McCain wants a debate about taxes in this campaign, then it is a debate I'm happy to have.  Because if you're a family making less than $250,000, my plan will not raise your taxes -- not your income tax, not your payroll taxes, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes," Obama told reporters at a hastily arranged press conference at the Drury Inn after his flight to Charlotte, NC was diverted here for mechanical reasons. "In fact, what Senator McCain's gonna need to explain is why his tax cut for the middle class would leave out 101 million households, and why, the families who are lucky enough to get a tax cut under his plan, it would be worth only about $125 in the first year. The difference is -- he trusts that prosperity will trickle down from corporations and the wealthiest few to everyone else. I believe that it's the hard work of the middle-class American family that fuels this nation's prosperity."

During the roughly half hour presser, Obama also talked about the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies and scoffed at the new ad by McCain's "surrogates" touting the Arizona senator's energy plan, arguing his energy policy was in line with failed George Bush policies.

On Iraq: Obama was asked whether he felt the Iraqi prime minister's statement that his country wanted some type of timetable for US troops to withdraw that was conditioned on the ability of the Iraqi security forces to step up would limit how long American troops would remain there.

"I think that Prime Minister Maliki's statement is consistent with my view about how withdrawals should proceed and how a status of forces agreement should not be structured without congressional input and should not be rushed," he said. "The concern that I've had has been that this administration negotiates with the Iraqis, signs something up that binds future administrations that isn't going before Congress and that does not have a clear pathway for US troops to get out of Iraq. I think it's encouraging, partly because of the extraordinary work of our troops on the ground in Iraq and improvements in the situation when it comes to Iraqi forces that the prime minister himself now acknowledges that in cooperation with Iraq it's time for American forces to start setting out a timeframe for withdrawal and I hope that this administration as well as John McCain are listening to what prime minister Maliki has to say."

On the Democratic convention: "We are excited about the prospect of opening up the convention. I obviously had the great honor of participating in the last convention in Boston and it was terrific, but one of the things I've said in the past is that sometimes our conventions don't feel like they are open to everybody and for us to be able to do it in Invesco Field is an opportunity for 80,000 who might not otherwise have been able to participate to get involved and its consistent with how we want to make sure that people from all walks of life ordinary Americans are able to participate in this convention and I think it will be terrific."

On McCain saying he'll balance budget by 2013 and whether it's overly ambitious: "Not only is sit overly ambitious, every independent observer whose looked at John McCain's plan says that his plan would add $200-300 bln a year in deficit spending. He hasn't specified how he would bring it down. His own campaign has acknowledged that they don't have specifics. In addition to perpetuating the Bush tax cuts which would add to the deficit in addition to continuing the war in Iraq indefinitely which would add to the deficit what he is also talking about is making sure that or, excuse me with respect to the war, would add to our national debt, what he's talking about is $300 bln in additional tax cuts and nobody knows how they're paid for and when he's asked how would you pay for them, he'll say `well I'm going to eliminate earmarks and pork barrel spending' except it turns out that every time that he's been asked about specific spending cuts -- for example the $2 bln required for the restoration of everglades in Florida he'll say `well I don't have a problem with that particular bit of spending I just don't like the earmarks process it went through,' well if that's the case then it's not a real cut and the truth is there are only about $18 bln dollars worth of earmarks -- there's a big gap between $300 bln dollars and $18 bln dollars. So even if he could eliminate all earmarks he'd still be $282 bln short from coming up with what's needed to provide $100 bln a year worth of tax breaks to corporations.''

More: "And I know that during his statements he was also making some suggestions that my plan would raise taxes on the middle case that is absolutely not the case, and everybody who has looked at it has said that in fact my tax cuts are 3 times more likely to go to the middle class than John McCain's. Only a quarter of his total tax cuts will go to the middle class, less than a quarter, 95 percent of people in America would get a tax cut under my plan, 95%. So some of the statistics that have been thrown out today by John McCain and in the past just don't add up.''

Obama said it was important for us to make some critical investments right now in America's families and did not promise a balanced budget by 2013.

On Republicans' budget resolution attacks accusing him of wanting to raise taxes: "The budget resolutions are not tax votes, they are and everybody in Washington knows this -- the budget process, screwy as it is in Washington -- not one that by the way, I designed and frankly I think has to be fundamentally reformed. The budget resolution is to give some parameters in terms of what in fact -- what the budget's going to look like in the coming year. But it dos not purport to actually be a tax bill and every observer who looks at this has said that this is a phony issue on the part of the McCain campaign."

On the matter of the Olympics opening ceremonies, he said he would not go barring a sense of progress in talks between the Dalai Lama and China, but also cautioned that he had not been briefed on those talks.

He also talked about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, his opposition to releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and about No Child Left Behind.