Merkel's rivals defend their tax-hike plans but poll ratings still poor before German vote

Chancellor Angela Merkel's opponents are defending their plans for tax increases and dismissing their stubbornly poor poll ratings ahead of Germany's Sept. 22 election.

Center-left challenger Peer Steinbrueck's Social Democrats and his allies, the Greens, met Thursday to present a united front and tout their control of Parliament's upper house — which represents Germany's 16 states and approves many major decisions — as an asset.

But polls show Merkel's conservative bloc leading the pack and a roughly 10-point advantage for her current center-right coalition over the rival alliance. Merkel has hammered away at her rivals' plans to increase taxes for high earners, arguing that would hurt the economy.

Steinbrueck says it's "nonsense" to assert that his party "wants to collect all handbags, all wallets to rip people off."