One of the mayors invited by President Obama on Wednesday to a White House meeting on fiscal issues predicted after the session that there would be civil unrest if congressional Republicans fail to agree to extended tax cuts for the middle class.
"I think that America will retaliate in the event this does not occur," said Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio. "Yes, we're going to be frustrated if this does not occur. In fact, it'll rise above frustration."
Asked by a reporter to elaborate, Mr. Coleman said retaliation was "maybe a little bit too strong" a word, but added that middle-class Americans "will get upset" if they must pay higher taxes because of a dispute over increased rates for the wealthy.
Mr. Obama hosted the meeting as part of his continued effort to pressure House Republicans to accept tax increases on families earning at least $250,000 per year. He also spoke to mayors of both major parties from across the nation in a conference call.
No apparent progress was made Wednesday on negotiations to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, a $500 billion mix of automatic tax hikes and steep spending cuts due to take effect Jan. 1. Business leaders and economists have warned that the blow to the economy could produce another recession.
Mr. Obama spoke by phone late Tuesday with House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, but both sides accused each other Wednesday of failing to offer specific plans for cutting spending and raising revenue. Mr. Boehner said they have "serious differences," although the White House lowered its tax-hike proposal from $1.6 trillion to $1.4 trillion over 10 years.
"The president has called for $1.4 trillion in revenue that cannot pass the House or the Senate," Mr. Boehner said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Boehner and his fellow House Republican leaders haven't accepted the president's position that tax rates for wealthier Americans must be increased.
"They have refused to accept the fundamental fact that higher-income Americans, millionaires and billionaires, the top 2 percent of earners in America, are not going to have their tax cuts extended," Mr. Carney said.
He also ridiculed Republicans' argument that enough revenue could be raised by closing tax loopholes or capping deductions. "Those magic beans are just beans, and that fairy dust is just dust," Mr. Carney said. "It is not serious."
Republicans reiterated that Mr. Obama said in July 2011 that the government could raise as much as $1.2 trillion by closing loopholes, capping deductions and broadening the base of taxpayers without raising rates.
A White House official told reporters on the condition of anonymity Wednesday that Mr. Boehner was seeking a permanent extension of George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the top wage earners, a claim that the speaker's office denied.
As both sides sought advantage in the public relations side of their battle, a group of Republican congressmen posed outside the Capitol with a group of small children to make the point that Mr. Obama's budget proposals would saddle future generations with more debt.
"We are going to relegate these kids, our grandkids, to a lower standard of living," said Rep. Sean P. Duffy, Wisconsin Republican. "We are going to leave them with higher tax rates. This is unacceptable."
The mayors who met with Mr. Obama on Wednesday said the president didn't seem frustrated, but some of them said they were growing impatient with the impasse in Washington.
"I think America's becoming frustrated," said Mr. Coleman, a Democrat. "I think those in Ohio are becoming frustrated, those in Columbus are becoming frustrated, because it seems this [deal] can be done. We can forge an agreement with Congress that will result in an extension of tax cuts for the middle class, allowing us to keep $2,000 more in our pockets for our children, for shelter, for groceries, for food, for savings."
Judge Clay Jenkins, executive of Dallas County, Texas, said the economy is too fragile to handle the combined blow of across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts.
"If we hold the middle class hostage and we fall off this cliff, I do think that in areas like ours, where things are going well, we'll fall right back into recession," he said.
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