WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Barack Obama has urged American business leaders to press Republicans in Congress to reach a compromise in deadlocked deficit reduction talks. The remarks came as a key Republican lawmaker said it is up to the president to make the next move in negotiations.
Obama appealed to chief executive officers of leading U.S. corporations to help break what he called the "logjam" created by congressional Republicans on a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff - automatic spending cuts and expiring tax cuts that many economists warn could push the country back into recession.
Obama reiterated his call for a "balanced approach," saying he is prepared to make "some tough decisions" on spending cuts, and look at long-term reforms to large government entitlement programs.
But he repeated his call to raise taxes on the top two percent of income earners, while extending tax cuts for the middle class.
"We can probably solve this in about a week," he said. "It's not that tough, but we need that conceptual breakthrough that says we need to do a balanced plan, that is what is best for the economy, that is what the American people voted for, that is how we are going to get it done."
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Obama pointed to what he called a recognition among some Republicans of the need for some tax rate increases coupled with entitlement reform and spending cuts.
The president also warned he will not tolerate a repetition of last year's standoff with Republicans over the need to raise the nation's debt ceiling. That fight led to the first downgrading of the U.S. credit rating.
"If Congress in any way suggests that they are going to tie negotiations to debt ceiling votes, and take us to the brink of default once again, as part of a budget negotiation, which by the way we have never done in our history until we did it last year, I will not play that game," he said.
Before Obama spoke, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, said it is up to the president to make the next move. He noted the House Republicans have sent a deal proposal to Obama.
"That offer included significant spending cuts and reforms, and it included additional revenue," said Boehner. "And frankly, it was the balanced approach that the president's been asking for. Now we need a response from the White House. We can't sit here and negotiate with ourselves."
Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo bank, said financial markets have already adjusted to a likely increase in tax rates, but going over the fiscal cliff, to any degree, is likely to slow the economy.
"We are going to go over the cliff, we're just not going to plummet over the cliff, we're going to slide over it a little bit, because taxes are going to go up in a way that is going to weigh on the economy," he said
The White House said that contacts with Republican lawmakers continue. No new meeting has been scheduled, as far as is known, between Obama and congressional leaders.