Cotton, Pryor spar over definition of middle class day after Arkansas Senate debates

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FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and Republican Rep. Tom Cotton sparred Wednesday over Pryor's comment that the middle class includes households making up to $200,000, as the Arkansas Senate rivals each tried to claim an edge after a pair of back-to-back debates.

Cotton pounced on the remark Pryor made during a Tuesday night debate, saying it shows he is too out of touch to represent Arkansas anymore.

"It's Sen. Pryor's support of President Obama's policies that have made life more difficult for real middle-class Arkansans, who simply want to work hard and provide for their families," Cotton said in a statement.

Pryor defended his description of the middle class as households making up to $200,000, saying it reflects those who would face a tax increase under legislation Cotton has supported.

"The reason he is trying to tax the middle class more heavily is so he can turn around and give billionaires underwriting his campaign tax breaks," Pryor said Wednesday.

Pryor's campaign said he was referring to Cotton's vote for Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal earlier this year, and cited an analysis by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities of Ryan's 2013 budget proposal that said the tax cuts proposed in the legislation would require adding to the deficit or raising taxes on households earning less than $200,000.

Pryor said the more important question was whom he would help.

Cotton's campaign accused the incumbent Democrat of supporting 21 tax increases by voting for the federal health care overhaul. A spokesman for Pryor said he's supported several changes to the law, including repealing a tax it imposes on medical devices.

The Arkansas Senate race is key to Republicans' efforts to win a majority in the chamber. The candidates and outside groups have spent more than $36 million on the race, according to the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.

There's no universal definition for the middle class, though the Census Bureau says Arkansas' median household income is $40,531.

Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, said defining the middle class is difficult because many people who work consider themselves part of it.

"Do you feel like you're richer than everyone you know?" she said. "You look around at what your neighbors have and we all say I'm just in the middle."


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