(WASHINGTON) — President Obama invited Congressional Republicans and Democrats to the White House next week to begin talks to resolve the country’s impending fiscal crisis, but he insisted on raising taxes on the wealthiest.
“I’m not wedded to every detail of my plan. I’m open to compromise, I’m open to new ideas, I’m committed to solving our fiscal challenges, but I refuse to accept any approach that isn’t balanced,” the president said Friday in his first statement since winning re-election.
He also made it clear that being balanced means having the wealthiest pay more.
“As I’ve said before, we can’t just cut our way to prosperity,” Obama said. “If we’re serious about reducing the deficit we have to combine spending cuts with revenue. That means asking the wealth to pay a little more in taxes.”
Congress faces a January deadline, dubbed the “fiscal cliff,” when taxpayers could be hit with thousands of dollars in tax increases and nearly a trillion in federal spending cuts.
Flanked by supporters in East Room, the president said Congress could end economic uncertainty “right now” by simply extending Bush-era tax cuts for middle class families.
“That one step would give millions of families, 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses the certainty that they need going into the new year,” Obama said. “It would immediately take a huge chunk of the economic uncertainty off the table and that would lead to new jobs and faster growth.”
Obama’s comments were in sharp contrast to remarks by House Speaker John Boehner just two hours earlier.
Boehner suggested that all of the Bush tax cuts, including for top tier tax payers, be extended past the January deadline to give the White House and Congress more time more time to address the country’s long term debt and entitlement issues next year.
“I’m proposing that we avert the fiscal cliff together in a manner that ensures that 2013 is finally the year that our government comes to grips with the major problems that are facing us,” he said.
“The members of our majority understand how important it is to avert the fiscal cliff,” Boehner said. He said the way forward includes addressing the debt through tax reform and entitlement reform.
Taken together, the comments mark an official restarting of talks to end a looming fiscal crisis, even as both sides appeared to be returning to the negotiating table with no change in their positions and little change in their rhetoric.
Boehner said raising taxes could hurt the economy, but said government could raise revenue by lowering tax rates and eliminating special interest loopholes.
However, Republicans view allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for high income earners as a tax increase and a non-starter among their ranks.
“Raising tax rates is unacceptable,” Boehner told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview on Thursday. “Frankly, it couldn’t even pass the House. I’m not sure it could pass the Senate.”
Boehner said that reforming the tax code is the only way he would be willing to put additional forms of revenue “on the table” in negotiations.
Both sides say that a deal will be struck in time to avert tax increases for middle class Americans. Yet they will have to wrangle with their respective bases, which have each laid down hard lines on taxes, spending and entitlements.
And following Tuesday’s election, the composition of the House and Senate moved only slightly; Republicans maintained their House majority, albeit smaller than it was before, and Democrats held a Senate majority slightly larger than the one they had previously.
On Friday, Obama said that he is willing to be moved on some issues and welcomes new ideas. He said that he would invite business, labor and community leaders to Washington for additional input.
“Now that those of us on the campaign trail have had a chance to get some sleep, it’s time for us to get back to work,” Obama said. “Our top priority has to be jobs and growth.”
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