Obama: 'I'll do whatever it takes' for budget deal

President Obama on Wednesday ramped up his sales pitch for Congress to accept a budget deal that includes tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, offering a stark warning to lawmakers that it’s “too important to screw this up.”

During brief remarks at the White House to a group of middle-class voters, Obama sought to push his proposal to extend tax rates only on households with annual income of $250,000 or less before those rates expire at the end of the year. 

Obama, who will travel to Pennsylvania on Friday to tout his proposal, also urged Americans to take to Twitter and email to urge their lawmakers to prevent a tax hike on the middle class. 

ADVERTISEMENT
“I’ll go anywhere and I’ll do whatever it takes to get this done,” Obama said in his remarks. “It’s too important for Washington to screw this up. Now’s the time for us to work on what we all agree to, which is let’s keep middle-class taxes low. That’s what our economy needs. That’s what the American people deserve.”

Obama, who campaigned on raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, said the “fiscal-cliff” debate is not just about numbers. It’s a set of major decisions, he said, “that are gonna affect millions of families all across this country.”

Seeking to apply pressure on the GOP-led House, Obama noted the Senate has passed his tax plan.

The president said he was proposing a plan that is “fair and balanced” and said he believed both parties can agree to a framework in the coming weeks. He added that his “hope is to get this done before Christmas.”

Obama’s public-relations approach bears a strong resemblance to a strategy the White House employed last year during the payroll tax debate, when the president urged people to email and call their lawmakers and use social media networks like Twitter to explain what a tax increase would mean to them.

On Wednesday, Obama used his bully pulpit to urge people to tweet with the hashtag “My2K” to explain how a $2,000 tax hike would affect their lives.

White House aides have said that Obama will keep up the public campaign in an effort to keep the pressure on Congress, a tactic that worked not only in the payroll tax debate but with student loan legislation earlier this year.

“The American people are watching what we do,” Obama said. “When the American people speak loudly enough, lo and behold, Congress listens … The lesson is that when enough people get involved, we have a pretty good track record of actually making Congress work.”

Obama also spent part of Wednesday meeting with 14 business leaders, including Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein; Frank Blake, the chairman and chief executive of Home Depot Inc.; and Joe Echeverria, the chief executive of Deloitte LLP, to discuss the looming crisis.

“Everybody’s going to have to move to the center,” Echeverria said of the budget talks.

He added that the “notion that something is off the table, I don’t think is realistic.”

Arne Sorenson, the CEO of Marrioatt, added, “My personal request to the president and his team was, do as much as you possibly can now.

“Don’t just talk about down payments, small down payments, that leave the uncertainty hanging out over 2013, because I think the uncertainty will be a threat to the economy as well,” Sorenson said. “So you have to do something that is real and substantive today.”

On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Rob Nabors, the director of White House legislative affairs, are expected to hold individual meetings with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), along with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The meeting on Capitol Hill comes as a new ABC/Washington Post poll shows that 60 percent of those surveyed support raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 a year. 

In his remarks on Wednesday, Obama said he remained hopeful that a deal could be struck. But he added, “I don’t think we’ll get it done tomorrow.”

— Updated at 7:57 p.m.