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Obama calls bipartisan meeting on 'fiscal cliff,' digs in on tax hike

Obama, in first remarks from White House since reelection, says he will compromise with Republicans to avoid the fiscal cliff, but won't agree to a plan that doesn't raise taxes on wealthiest Americans.

By Staff writer / November 9, 2012

President Obama gestures as he speaks about the economy and the deficit, Friday, Nov. 9, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Washington

Election over, the “fiscal cliff” is upon us.

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An energized President Obama invited bipartisan congressional leaders to a meeting at the White House next week to talk deficit reduction, and indicated flexibility as the clock ticks down toward a Dec. 31 deadline to avert potentially recession-inducing tax increases and deep spending cuts.

“I’m open to compromise. I’m open to new ideas,” Mr. Obama said Friday, in his first statement from the White House since reelection on Tuesday. “I’m committed to solving our fiscal challenges. But I refuse to accept any approach that isn’t balanced.”

For Obama, the term “balanced” is code for allowing the Bush-era income-tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers, while keeping reduced tax rates for the rest. In a press briefing immediately after Obama’s remarks, White House press secretary Jay Carney doubled down on the president’s long-standing rejection of any year-end legislation that allowed tax cuts to continue for the most affluent taxpayers.

“The president has long made clear that he will veto an extension of tax cuts for the top 2 percent of wealthiest Americans,” Mr. Carney said.

The Republicans have been adamantly opposed to tax increases on anyone, but since the election, Republican House Speaker John Boehner has softened his tone. The speaker now says he’s willing to accept “new revenue,” perhaps through closing loopholes and eliminating tax deductions, but still calls any rise in tax rates “unacceptable.” In a statement, Speaker Boehner accepted Obama’s invitation to meet at the White House next week. 

In a press conference Friday before Obama’s remarks, Boehner proposed a temporary measure extending the Bush-era tax cuts into 2013, allowing the new Congress to work with the White House on a comprehensive package of tax reform, entitlement reform, and deficit reduction.

“I’m proposing that we avert the fiscal cliff together in a manner that ensures 2013 is finally the year that our government comes to grips with the major problems that are facing us,” Boehner said.

Since the election, the speaker has also called on Obama several times to step up his leadership. “This is an opportunity for the president to lead,” Boehner said Friday.

Boehner also revealed that he had had a “short conversation” with Obama earlier this week. The president has been criticized for not reaching out regularly to Republicans, especially as his reelection campaign kicked into gear last year.

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