President Obama holds up a pen as he speaks about the economy and the deficit… (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster )
WASHINGTON – President Obama said Friday he was open to compromise with Republicans to prevent automatic tax increases and spending cuts by year’s end but would continue to insist on a resolution that includes higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
Speaking from the East Room of the White House in his first public appearance since Tuesday’s election, the president said his victory was a mandate to pursue what he called a “balanced” approach.
Obama also announced he has invited congressional leaders from both parties to the White House next week for the first formal talks on the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
He said he was “not wedded to every detail” of the deficit-reduction plan he had already offered, and that he was “open to new ideas.”
“But I refuse to accept any approach that isn't balanced,” he said. “This was a central question during the election. It was debated over and over again. And on Tuesday night, we found out that the majority of Americans agree with my approach.”
Exit polls of voters released Tuesday showed that 47% of Americans supported raising income tax rates on those earning $250,000 or more. An additional 13% said all should pay more in taxes, while 35% were against any tax increase.
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Borrowing from a strategy the White House used during a fight over the payroll tax, Obama sought to put pressure on House Republicans by reminding them that the Senate had already passed a measure to extend Bush-era tax rates on the first $250,000 of income for married couples, and that even as both sides negotiate a larger deal, they could act immediately to reassure “98% of Americans” that their taxes will hold steady. The president has insisted on allowing taxes on income of more than $250,000 to return to the level it was under President Clinton.
“I’ve got the pen ready to sign the bill right away. I’m ready to do it,” he said.
Coming three days after he secured a second term, the president’s remarks were the initial White House salvo in what is expected to be a contentious battle with Republicans during a lame-duck session of Congress over taxes and spending.
Although he said it was “time to get back to work” after a long election battle, there were hints of an ongoing campaign. Joined by Vice President Joe Biden, Obama spoke in front of a riser that a White House official said was filled with middle-class Americans and others who support the president’s approach.
“What the American people are looking for is cooperation, they’re looking for consensus, they’re looking for common sense. Most of all, they want action. I intend to deliver for them in my second term, and I expect to find willing partners in both parties to make that happen,” he said.
Obama followed House Speaker John A. Boehner in claiming to seek compromise even as he insisted voters offered a mandate for his red-line on taxes. Boehner said Friday he continued to favor tax reform that would lower overall rates. “By lowering rates and cleaning up the tax code, we know that we're gonna get more economic growth. It'll bring jobs back to America. It'll bring more revenue,” Boehner told reporters on Capitol Hill earlier in the day.”
Allowing the tax rates on higher income levels to go up in the new year would hurt small-business owners, Boehner argued, which “would slow down our economy.”
The president said he “was encouraged to hear Speaker Boehner agree that tax revenue has to be part of this equation,” and would look forward to discussing plans in detail next week.