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Sen. Mike Lee: President Obama playing 'political games' during fiscal cliff negotiations

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 7:54 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama speaks to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington after meeting with Congressional leaders regarding the fiscal cliff, Friday, Dec. 28, 2012.  (Charles Dharapak, ASSOCIATED PRESS) President Barack Obama speaks to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington after meeting with Congressional leaders regarding the fiscal cliff, Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. (Charles Dharapak, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

SALT LAKE CITY — With a resolution to the so-called "fiscal cliff" still up in the air Sunday, Sen. Mike Lee said he was surprised that President Barack Obama chose to be critical of the GOP.

The Utah Republican said he was taken aback by the tone the president took in a rare Sunday morning talk show interview "in circumstances like this one where it's down to the wire and we need to be negotiating in good faith."

Lee said that "when someone tries to play political games like that, everyone suffers. Democrats and Republicans are hurt by that sort of thing."

Obama said on NBC's "Meet the Press" he's negotiated in good faith to stop the automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect Jan.1 without congressional action.

Republicans, the Democratic president said, "say their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they're behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected.

Lee said that kind of talk isn't helpful.

"I suspect the president regrets saying that," he said. "It's certainly not a good negotiating tactic when you're in the final hours of what could become a significant crisis if you don't avert it."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, offered his own criticism of Obama.

"The president needs to stop trying to blame and start leading," Chaffetz said. 

He also had some harsh words for the Senate, where the latest talks on a compromise on the fiscal cliff appear to have broken down Sunday.

"The Senate needs to do its job," Chaffetz said, noting the House passed a plan in August to keep the current tax rates in place.

Chaffetz declined to say whether he would support an alternative stop-gap proposal first proposed by the president on Friday that may surface in the Democratic-controlled Senate, calling it "all hypothetical."

The proposal reportedly would raise taxes on those earning more than $250,000 but extend the current tax rates on everyone else, allow unemployment benefits to continue and head off cuts in Medicaid payments.

Lee said he'd take a look at the proposal if it advances, but wasn't enthusiastic.

"I don't support tax increases," the senator said. "If you raise taxes even if it's only raising taxes on the top 2 percent, you're going to kill an estimated 700,000 jobs" according to a study by Ernst and Young.

According to the Washington Post, that study was prepared last year by the firm for several business groups that oppose the tax increase and stated "roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of the long-run effect is reached within a decade."

The jobs lost aren't going to be those held by the nation's top earners, Lee said. "It's hard working Americans who are living paycheck by paycheck and those who are least able to absorb the losses," he said. "That's why were' concerned about that."

Lee said he felt no obligation to voters who reelected Obama on a campaign platform that called for a tax hike on the wealthy.

"It doesn't make it a good idea," Lee said of the apparent majority support for higher taxes on the rich. "It doesn't make it any less hurtful to those who are going to lose their jobs if taxes go up. That's not a reason to raise taxes."

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