Obama tells US Treasury to begin cutting taxes

By Ross Colvin, Reuters

Posted at Feb 21 2009 09:05 PM | Updated as of Feb 22 2009 05:05 AM

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama ordered the U.S. Treasury on Saturday to implement tax cuts for 95 percent of Americans, fulfilling a campaign pledge he hopes will help jolt the economy out of recession.

The tax cuts are part of a $787 billion economic recovery plan passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress over Republican opposition. The aim is to put more money in the pockets of Americans and stimulate the economy by increasing consumer spending.

"I'm pleased to announce that this morning the Treasury Department began directing employers to reduce the amount of taxes withheld from paychecks, meaning that by April 1st, a typical family will begin taking home at least $65 more every month," Obama said in his weekly radio address.

"Never before in our history has a tax cut taken effect faster or gone to so many hard-working Americans," he said.

With tens of thousands of Americans losing their jobs in the midst of a global economic meltdown, Obama has said fixing the U.S. economy is his top priority. He has acknowledged that his success or failure in that will define his presidency.

Obama campaigned for the White House last year on a pledge to roll back his predecessor George W. Bush's tax cuts on the wealthy few and implement a cut for 95 percent of Americans.

His announcement came a day after one of his top economic advisers, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, said the global economy may be deteriorating even faster than during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Since being sworn into office on January 20, Obama has sought to reassure Americans that his government is tackling the economic crisis boldly and swiftly -- holding near-daily events to announce measures to stem mortgage foreclosures, prop up failing banks, rescue the ailing auto industry and drive his stimulus package through Congress.

The measures have received a mixed early reaction from gloomy financial markets uncertain whether they will succeed in arresting the downward economic spiral.

The package includes $282 billion in tax cuts -- the Republicans pushed unsuccessfully for more -- and $120 billion for public works projects including highway and rail projects.

'Hazardous road ahead'

"But as important as it was that I was able to sign this plan into law, it is only a first step on the road to economic recovery," Obama said in his address.

"None of this will be easy. The road ahead will be long and full of hazards. But I'm confident that we, as a people, have the strength and wisdom to carry out this strategy and overcome this crisis," he said.

His announcement on the tax cuts capped a week that saw him sign the stimulus package into law and announce new measures to help families facing foreclosure and those struggling to make mortgage payments.

He will step up the pace next week when he holds a summit at the White House on Monday to look at how to rein in the country's ballooning deficit and bring government spending under control as the economy starts to recover.

Lawmakers, academics and business leaders have been invited to share their ideas on how to cut the $1 trillion deficit that Obama inherited along with two costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama will follow the summit with a major speech on Tuesday to a joint session of Congress in which he will lay out his domestic and foreign policy agenda. Inevitably, the economic crisis will loom large.

After a short breather on Wednesday to host a concert honoring Stevie Wonder, Obama on Thursday will unveil his proposed budget for the 2010 fiscal year, which will reflect the big increases in public spending as part of the economic recovery plan.