Vice President Joe Biden speaks to the media after eating lunch with middle… (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated…)
WASHINGTON -- Claiming a deal could be done in a snap, Vice President Biden said Friday that the White House is willing to negotiate on where to set the top income tax rate as long as Republicans agree that rate is going up.
Speaking at a diner where he lunched with middle class taxpayers, Biden made the clearest statement yet of what appears to be President Obama's preferred path away from the so-called fiscal cliff -- the set automatic increases and spending cuts set to take effect in the new year.
“The top brackets have to go up. This is not a negotiable issue,” Biden said. “Theoretically we can negotiate how far up but we think it should go -- the top rate should go to 39.6%.”
Income tax rates are set to rise for all taxpayers at the end of the year when the George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire and have become embroiled in a larger battle over crafting a deficit reduction package. Obama says he won’t extend the lower rates for the top 2% of earners, but has signaled that he would accept a lower rate than the Clinton-era 39.6%. Republicans meanwhile have pushed to raise new revenue for deficit reduction by closing loopholes and deductions, and have proposed a broad set of changes to entitlement programs as part of a potential deal.
PHOTOS: The best shots from the 2012 campaign
Biden’s visit was the latest in the a series of staged outings intended to put pressure on Republicans to move off that stance. The vice president sat at the Metro 29 diner surrounded by people who would see their tax bills rise if Congress and the White House don’t reach a deal. The group told him the increase in tax payments could mean cutting off piano lessons and gymnastics for their kids, the vice president said.
"The downside of going down this cliff...is real." Biden said. “This is no time to add any additional burden for middle class people."
Biden suggested the deal could be dispensed with in a hurry. Snapping his fingers, Biden said it would take "15 minutes" for a bill to get done if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed to let taxes on the wealthy go up.
Boehner has showed no inclination to move off his stance and on Friday the speaker said Obama had “wasted another week” by refusing to answer Republicans’ latest offer.
Follow Politics Now on Twitter and Facebook