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Blacks, Latinos Join White House In 'Fiscal Cliff' PR War

The White House is warning African-Americans and Hispanics that they face disproportionate harm from tax hikes, spending cuts and an end to extended unemployment benefits if a deal isn't struck to avoid the fiscal cliff.

At a closed White House meeting Thursday, the administration briefed more than 100 black leaders on potential stakes for their communities, some of which still are experiencing the worst effects of the recession.

The meetings came a day after White House officials conducted a similar briefing in a conference call with the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic advocacy group.

The briefings are part of President Obama's aggressive campaign to turn up public pressure on Republican lawmakers to accept the centerpiece of his plan to avoid the "fiscal cliff" — tax increases for individuals earning more than $200,000 and families earning more than $250,000.

While Obama spoke by telephone on Wednesday with House Speaker John Boehner, negotiations between the sides have been going on largely through public posturing. On Thursday, Obama also took his public relations battle with Boehner to suburban Virginia to meet with what the White House called a middle-class family on the impact of the fiscal cliff.

If no agreement is reached by Dec. 31, a series of income tax cuts would expire across the board — raising rates on most Americans. They would be coupled with severe spending cuts across government programs, the end of the so-called holiday on part of the payroll tax withheld for Social Security, and an expiration of some unemployment benefits.

"There is no one in America who is not going to be touched by the fiscal cliff," says the NAACP's Hillary Shelton, who attending the briefing. "For the middle class, you're talking about thousands of dollars being added to the burdens of families who already overburdened. And what the government calls discretionary spending [is] absolutely essential for our community."

There was broad agreement among the leaders, whose support for Obama was pivotal to his re-election, to back the president's plan. In his proposal to House Republicans, Obama calls for letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for America's wealthiest, but extending the reduced rates for other Americans.

Republicans have called for renewing the Bush-era tax rates for all Americans, including the wealthiest, but have agreed to support increased tax revenue through closing loopholes and narrowing deductions on the wealthy.

They also have called for spending cuts, such as curbs in Social Security cost-of-living increases and delaying Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67. Obama has said he would support some savings in Medicare as part of a deal that includes a tax increase on the wealthy.

Without a deal, black leaders say, spending cuts in education would be among the most detrimental to their communities. Vulnerable programs include student loan subsidies and Pell Grants for college students, and Title 1 funds for public schools with high enrollments of students from low-income families. Roughly 50 percent of America's public schools receive Title 1 money.

Another concern for both black and Latino groups is the potential expiration of extended jobless benefits. The nation's unemployment was at 7.9 percent in October, but at 10 percent for Latinos and 14.3 percent for blacks.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corey Dade is a national correspondent for the NPR Digital News team. With more than 15 years of journalism experience, he writes news analysis about federal policy, national politics, social trends, cultural issues and other topics for NPR.org.