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White House insists taxes must be part of the debt and deficit solution

As debt talks shift to Obama, GOP Speaker John Boehner, and Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid, taxes remain the logjam. No one wants to be seen as giving ground on that issue too quickly.

By Staff writer / June 27, 2011

In this June 14 file photo, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky speaks to media after the Republican caucus luncheon on Capitol Hill. McConnell, who meets with the president Monday evening, took to the Senate floor with a sharp warning to the White House to take tax hikes off the table.

Alex Brandon/AP

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Washington

President Obama on Monday engaged congressional leaders one on one in a bid to break partisan deadlocks over the budget, especially the GOP taboo on raising taxes, and to get his administration's derailed debt and deficit negotiations back on track. But it's clear that his starting gambit is to try to persuade Republican lawmakers – and the public – of the need for higher taxes for some Americans.

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Tax increases – or at least ending tax breaks for corporations or the highest-income Americans – will have to be in the mix, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday morning after Mr. Obama met with Senate majority leader Harry Reid. “It’s the only way to get it done,” he said.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, who meets with the president Monday evening, took to the Senate floor with a sharp warning to the White House to take tax hikes off the table.

“Not only are [higher taxes] counterproductive from the standpoint of an economic recovery," he said, "they’re also politically impossible, since Republicans oppose tax hikes and Democrats have already shown they won’t raise taxes in a down economy.”

A measure to raise taxes on the highest-income Americans failed in the Senate in December, when Democrats held a strong majority of 59 seats. Five Democrats broke ranks to vote with all Republicans to oppose a measure to boost taxes on those with incomes greater than $250,000 a year.

“You can’t get a tax hike through this body,” says Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senator McConnell. "Now, they’re asking for $600 billion in tax increases. You don’t get there by closing corporate loopholes.”

That prospect of some $600 billion in tax hikes, along with new spending proposals by Democrats intended to stimulate job creation, is what prompted GOP negotiators – House majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Sen. John Kyl of Arizona – to walk out of the debt talks led by Vice President Joe Biden last Thursday.

If anything, their exits have only hardened partisan positions on the tax question, because it places the responsibility for a deal squarely with a new set of negotiators – the president, Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio, and majority leader Reid, none of whom can be seen to be giving ground too quickly on such a high-profile, partisan commitment.

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