President Obama said Wednesday that he was "open to compromise and new ideas" to address the looming fiscal cliff, and insisted that the country's "top priority has to be jobs and growth." But the president seemed to rule out a deal that would raise revenues solely based on eliminating deductions and loopholes for the wealthiest taxpayers, and insisted that unlike in his first term, he would not cave on extending the Bush-era tax cuts.
"What I'm not going to do is to extend further a tax cut for folks who don't need it, which would cost close to a trillion dollars and it's very difficult to see how you make up that trillion dollars, if we're serious about deficit reduction, just by closing loopholes and deductions," the president said.
"I argued for a balanced, responsible approach and part of that included making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay a little bit more," Obama said. "I think every voter out there understood that was an important debate and the majority of voters agreed with me."
The president also urged Congress to immediately move on legislation that would preserve the Bush-era cuts for the middle class and poor, arguing repeatedly that "we should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy."
When asked again if the Bush-era tax rates for the wealthy had to go, he appeared to slightly soften his stance.
"With respect to the tax rates, I just want to emphasize, I am open to new ideas," he said. "If the Republican counterparts or some Democrats have a great idea for us to raise revenue, maintain progressivity and the middle class isn't hit, decreases the deficit, increases growth, I want to hear ideas from everybody. I believe this is solvable."
But Obama emphasized that he would not sign on to any "process that is vague, that says
we're going to sort of kind of raise revenue through dynamic scoring or
closing loopholes that have not been identified."
The comments came at the president's first press conference since March, and just ahead of negotiations set to begin Friday during a meeting at the White House with congressional leaders.
Republican leaders in Congress have indicated that they are open to raising revenues by closing existing tax loopholes, but would oppose efforts by Democrats to raise the tax rates on the wealthiest Americans.
"When it comes to the great economic challenges of the moment, saying that you want a balanced approach is not a plan," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate confirms first nominees of Trump era The new Washington elite schmoozes over lunch Trump takes first official acts at signing ceremony MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday. "Saying people need to pay their fair share isn’t a plan. The tedious repetition of poll-tested talking points is simply that. And the longer the president uses them as a substitute for leadership, the more difficult it will be to solve our problems."
White House press secretary Jay Carney had said earlier in the week that Obama was committed to his original budget plan, which would raise $1.6 trillion in new revenue through the repeal of the Bush-era tax cuts on households with an income of more than $250,000.
"The president has put forward a very specific plan that will be what he brings to the table when he sits down with congressional leaders, and that's a plan that builds on the $1.1 trillion in spending cuts that he’s already signed into law, and finds other savings both in discretionary spending and in entitlement programs, $340 billion additional savings in our healthcare entitlement programs, and insists as the essence of balance that revenue be included — $1.6 trillion in revenue," Carney said.
The White House hopes the president can rally public support for his proposal in the aftermath of last week's election, which saw Obama earn a second term. A poll released Tuesday by Pew Research suggests the president could have the upper hand; according to the survey, a majority of Americans — 53 percent — would blame congressional Republicans if no agreement was reached. Just one in 10 said they would blame both sides equally, while 29 percent said they would solely blame President Obama.
On Tuesday, President Obama met with top labor and progressive leaders at the White House, reportedly assuring them that he would protect entitlement programs that include Social Security and Medicare during the negotiations. The president has similar meetings with top business leaders scheduled for Wednesday.
"Both parties voted to set this deadline, and I believe that both parties can work together to make these decisions in a balanced and responsible way," Obama said. "Yesterday I had a chance to meet with labor and civic leaders for their input, today I'm meeting with CEOs of some of America's largest companies. And I'll meet with leaders of both parties of Congress before the week is out because there's only one way to solve these challenges and that is to do it together."
A report released last week by the Congressional Budget Office warned of dire consequences if the two sides are unable to strike a deal, predicting the country would again enter recession and see a spike in unemployment.