NEW YORK — Investors drew little hope Wednesday for a quick compromise in U.S. budget talks after President Barack Obama insisted that higher taxes on wealthy Americans would have to be part of any deal.
Stocks fell sharply, and even a signal from the Federal Reserve that it could launch a program in December to speed job growth failed to encourage investors. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 185 points.
Obama made clear he would seek higher tax revenue from the wealthiest Americans, which faces opposition among some Republicans in Congress. Obama said that a modest increase on the wealthy “is not going to break their backs.”
“The Street was looking for him to say some magic buzzwords about avoiding the ‘fiscal cliff,’ about cooperation,” said Sal Arnuk of Themis trading, a New Jersey brokerage. Instead, Arnuk said, the remarks were “unyielding.”
The “cliff” is a package of tax increases and government spending cuts that will take effect Jan. 1 unless Obama and Congress reach a deal first. They would total about $700 billion for 2013 and could send the country back into recession.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index has dropped 5 percent in that time, returning to where it stood in late July.
“Investors’ hopes that the election would end uncertainty remain unfulfilled,” said Lawrence Creatura, a portfolio manager at Federated Investors in Rochester, N.Y. “It’s very tough to determine what happens next.”
Obama said Wednesday that he would not to cave to Republicans who have pressed for tax cuts first passed by President George W. Bush to be extended for all income earners.
Obama has long opposed extending the cuts for families making more than $250,000 a year, but he gave in to GOP demands in 2010, when the cuts were up for renewal. They were extended two years.
The president also met with business leaders Wednesday to discuss the economy.
Obama is to meet Friday with Republican House Speaker John Boehner and the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell. They are expected to designate aides to begin the search for a compromise on the budget.
Boehner and McConnell have said they won’t agree to raise tax rates for the wealthy. They have said they are willing to support raising overall tax revenue as part of a deal that also makes changes to the government’s largest benefit programs.
There are ways to increase tax revenue from the wealthy without raising rates, including limiting tax deductions, but the path to compromise is unclear. Obama sidestepped a question about insisting on higher rates for the wealthy.
“I just want to emphasize I am open to new ideas if the Republican counterparts or some Democrats have a great idea for us to raise revenue, maintain progressivity, make sure the middle class isn’t getting hit, reduces our deficit,” he said.