President Obama urged Congress to agree to a deal to extend the Bush-era tax rates for the middle class on Wednesday, while agreeing to consider other tax reform measures for wealthier Americans.

During a press conference at the White House, Obama rejected the Republican bargaining position of limiting tax deductions and loopholes for the wealthy, but not raising tax rates for upper-income taxpayers. He is seeking $1.6 trillion in revenue.

“I think that there are loopholes that can be closed, and we should look at how we can make the process of deductions, the filing process easier, simpler,” he said. “But when it comes to the top 2 percent, 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 in deductions. You know, the math tends not to work.  And I think it’s important to establish a basic principle that was debated extensively during the course of this campaign. 

“This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody,” he added.  “If there was one thing that everybody understood was a big difference between myself and Mr. Romney, it was, when it comes to how we reduce our deficit, I argued for a balanced, responsible approach, and part of that included making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay a little bit more. I think every voter out there understood that was an important debate, and the majority of voters agreed with me. By the way, more voters agreed with me on this issue than voted for me.“

Obama argued that a clear majority of the American people recognize that deficit reduction needs to be done in a balanced way. “The only question now is, are we going to hold the middle class hostage in order to go ahead and let that happen?” he asked. “Or can we all step back and say, here’s something we agree on. We don’t want middle- class taxes to go up. Let’s go ahead and lock that in. That will be good for the economy. It will be good for consumers. It will be good for businesses. It takes the edge off the fiscal cliff. And let’s also then commit ourselves to the broader package of deficit reduction that includes entitlement changes and it includes, potentially, tax reform, as well as I’m willing to look at additional work that we can do on the discretionary spending side.”

Obama is preparing to meet Friday with congressional leaders in both parties in an effort to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” of expiring tax breaks and automatic spending cuts at the end of the year that threatens to throw the economy back into recession next year.

“I want a big deal,” he said. “I want a comprehensive deal. I want to see if we can, at least for the foreseeable future, provide certainty to businesses and the American people, so that we can focus on job growth, so that we’re also investing in the things that we need. But right now what I want to make sure of is, is that taxes on middle-class families don’t go up, and there’s a very easy way to do that. We could get that done by next week.”

Obama noted that he is open to compromise. “We face a very clear deadline that requires us to make some big decisions on jobs, taxes and deficits by the end of the year,” he said. “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. 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. 

“As I’ve said before, I’m open to compromise and I’m open to new ideas,” he added. “And I’ve been encouraged over the past week to hear Republican after Republican agree for the need for more revenue from the wealthiest Americans as part of our arithmetic if we’re going to be serious about reducing the deficit because when it comes to taxes, there are two pathways available.”

He described a pair of possible options he could pursue. “Option one, if Congress fails to act by the end of this year, everybody’s taxes will automatically go up, including the 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 a year and the 97 percent of small businesses who earn less than $250,000 a year. That doesn’t make sense,” Obama insisted. “Our economy can’t afford that right now. Certainly no middle-class family can afford that right now.  And nobody in either party says that they want it to happen. The other option is to pass a law right now that would prevent any tax hike whatsoever on the first $250,000 of everybody’s income. And by the way, that means every American, including the wealthiest Americans, get a tax cut. It means that 98 percent of all Americans and 97 percent of all small businesses won’t see their taxes go up a single dime."

The Senate has already passed a law like this, Obama noted, and Democrats in the House are ready to pass a similar law. “I hope Republicans in the House come on board too,” he added. “We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy. We should at least do what we agree on, and that’s to keep middle-class taxes lower. And I’ll bring everyone in to sign it right away so we can give folks some certainty before the holiday season.  I won’t pretend that figuring out everything else will be easy, but I’m confident we can do it and I know we have to. I know that that’s what the American people want us to do."

Obama indicated that he was open to some flexibility on tax rates and would not draw any "red lines."

"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, make sure the middle class isn’t getting hit, reduces our deficit, encourages growth, I’m not going to just slam the door in their face. I want to hear ideas from everybody."

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., criticized Obama’s response so far to Republican offers on the fiscal cliff.

“After the election, we only had 55 days to steer clear of the fiscal cliff,” Camp said in a statement. “The President has now finished at least his third press conference on the matter but is still two days away from meeting with congressional leadership. After that, he will leave for Southeast Asia, which will bring us to Thanksgiving. Time is running short, and, frankly, we don’t have time to waste on offers that are going nowhere. Speaker Boehner, on the very first day after the election, took the responsible approach and offered a compromise that included tax revenues in exchange for entitlement reforms. Unfortunately, the President has only responded with his same old demand that we raise taxes on nearly 1 million small businesses. Raising taxes will not create jobs. Tax reform, however, will not only create jobs but it can produce more revenues—something the President wants. I urge the President to begin serious and substantive negotiations with Congress. We are ready.”

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