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“We've got to extend the tax cuts for the middle class that are set to expire at the end of the month,” Biden said. — File photo

WASHINGTON: US Vice President Joseph Biden urged Congress on Saturday to extend tax cuts for middle-class Americans as well as unemployment benefits for workers who had lost their jobs in a recession.

“We've got to extend the tax cuts for the middle class that are set to expire at the end of the month,” Biden said in a weekly radio address, which he delivered because President Barack Obama was out of the country in Afghanistan.

He warned that if lawmakers fail to do so, earnings by millions of middle-class families will be significantly reduced starting January 1.

“And that's the last thing we should let happen,” Biden continued. “After a decade in which they lost ground, middle class families can ill-afford a tax hike and our economy can't afford the hit it will take if middle class families have less money to spend.”

The tax cuts were approved for all income levels under the administration of former Republican president George W. Bush, but they are set to expire at the end of the year.

The Democratic plan, backed by the White House, would make the tax cuts on income of up to $250,000 per couple or $200,000 per individual permanent, but let rates on higher earners rise to where they were before cuts in 2001 and 2003.

Republicans, who have the votes to block the Democratic plan, have said that all of the tax cuts including those that directly benefit just the top three per cent of earners should be extended.

Biden also urged Congress to extend unemployment benefits for Americans who have lost their jobs in a recession-hit economy.

“Without unemployment benefits, families can't spend on basic necessities that are grown, made, and sold by other Americans,” he said.

The vice president also warned that if Congress fails to act, “the economic hit caused by raising taxes on the middle class, and denying two million Americans unemployment insurance, will wind up costing us hundreds of thousands of more jobs.”

“It just isn't smart,” Biden added.

The comments came as the US jobless rate surged to 9.8 per cent in November, a blow to the economic recovery and to President Obama's hopes for a quick end to high unemployment.

A measly 39,000 jobs were created during the month, the Labour Department reported, well short of the 130,000 predicted by economists and well beneath the levels needed to dent unemployment rates.—AFP