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Owens breaks from Obama on tax threshold

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President Barack Obama’s call for expiration of Bush-era tax cuts for those who make more than $250,000 will put him at odds with Republicans, to be sure, but it also highlights a contrast with congressional Democrats such as Rep. William L. Owens of Plattsburgh.

Mr. Owens says the tax cuts should expire for those earning more than $500,000 annually, though he wouldn’t say how he’d vote on a bill at the $250,000 threshold.

“Do I think people who make less than $250,000 deserve to keep the lower taxes? Absolutely,” Mr. Owens said Monday. “They’re going to be the ones who spend the money. The question is, should we do it slightly higher?”

It’s a question Mr. Owens wasn’t prepared to answer Monday; he said he’d heard only that day of Mr. Obama’s call, though the tax cuts, instituted during President George W. Bush’s first term, have been a subject of debate during Mr. Owens’s nearly three-year tenure.

The internal Democratic Party debate, though, probably will play out more on the campaign trail than in the halls of Congress. Mr. Owens said it’s unlikely the issue will come up for a vote in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives; Republicans, like Mr. Owens’s Nov. 6 opponent, Matthew A. Doheny, favor extending the Bush tax cuts for all income levels. Doing otherwise would hurt the economy and the small businesses that drive job growth, they say.

The National Republican Congressional Committee went on the offensive after Mr. Obama’s announcement, attacking Mr. Owens in a news release.

“As if things were not hard enough in the Obama-Owens economy, the president plans to burden New York small businesses with even more devastating tax hikes,” said Paul Lindsay, an NRCC spokesman.

Although he hasn’t supported the president’s move, Mr. Owens said the expiration of the income tax cuts at Mr. Obama’s proposed level probably would not hurt the north country economy.

“The $250,000 number is one that, from a practical standpoint, because it is taxable income and not gross income, actually has very little impact on people in the district,” Mr. Owens said.

Citing Tax Policy Center statistics, Mr. Owens and his staffers say only about 2 percent of business owners nationally are above the $250,000 income threshold.

In his conversations with small-business owners, he said, “the vast majority tell me (their taxable income is) around 100,000 bucks, which means they would not be impacted by this at all.”

He said there’s no evidence that income tax cuts for the wealthy help spur job growth, but he supports targeted tax cuts. For example, after voting for Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul that included an excise tax on medical device manufacturers, Mr. Owens is now working to repeal the excise tax.

If there’s any movement on the Bush tax cuts, Mr. Owens said, it’s unlikely to occur in the crucible of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. But great pressure will be brought to bear on Congress because the tax cuts are set to expire shortly after the election.

“I think whatever is going to occur, in my view, is likely to occur during the lame-duck session,” Mr. Owens said.

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