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Obama's push to boost tax revenues: Will voters approve?

In deficit talks, Republicans insist on spending cuts, while Obama and Democrats want a 'balanced approach' that includes higher tax revenues. Political analysts say it's time for the president to make his case to the public.

By Staff writer / June 29, 2011

House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio prepares to address the press after a White House meeting with President Obama on the deficit and debt, June 1. Boehner is joined by fellow House Republicans (l. to r.) majority whip Kevin McCarthy of California, majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington.

Jim Young / Reuters / File

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Washington

President Obama has entered a dicey phase of his presidency, as he heads toward an end-game with the congressional Republican leadership on deficit reduction and, ultimately, a deal to raise the federal debt limit.

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Mr. Obama is expected to make remarks about the negotiations at an East Room press conference Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. Eastern. Later in the day, the president and vice president will meet with the Senate Democratic leadership in the Oval Office to discuss next steps.

Big spending cuts are already a given. In preliminary White House-GOP talks, which ended last week, Vice President Joe Biden and more junior GOP leadership came up with hundreds of billions of tentative cuts in federal spending. The hard part – taxes and entitlements – falls to Obama to sort out with the top Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. All told, the goal is to reach $2 trillion in savings to cover an increase in the debt ceiling beyond the current $14.3 trillion limit.

The White House is adamant that any deal include revenue increases, including closed tax loopholes and eliminating subsidies. Republicans are equally adamant in ruling out anything that could be described as a tax increase.

Politics is never far from the calculation. For Obama, who is running for reelection, the goal is to reach a deal via a “balanced approach” – that is, both spending cuts and revenue increases – that does not hand the Republicans an easy campaign ad of Obama calling for higher taxes. The Republicans are also trying to get Obama to agree to cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

“This will be a test of whether he has the leadership gene,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “He’s an attractive politician, a very effective campaigner. But in governance, if you look back over the first two years, you have to say that turning so much over to Congress has left the public with a bad feeling about where we are, especially on health care.”

Now, Professor Jillson says, it’s time for Obama to present the public with a thoughtful argument about how to address the nation’s fiscal imbalance – including revenue increases. “I think the public is in a somewhat different place than even a year ago,” he says. “People do see the financial and economic consequences of failing to solve these budgetary issues of deficit and debt.”

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