Forgoing direct negotiations with House Republicans for another week, President Obama surrounded himself Wednesday with middle-class taxpayers and urged Americans to pressure Congress to embrace his plan to end tax breaks for families earning more than $250,000 per year.
The president, attempting to gain leverage in the lame-duck Congress‘ “fiscal cliff” negotiations, pressed Americans to write to their lawmakers and use the Twitter hashtag #my2k. The name derives from White House estimates that the average family would pay about $2,000 more in taxes next year if rates go up.
“The American people are watching what we do,” Mr. Obama said at an event at the White House. “When the American people speak loudly enough, lo and behold, Congress listens. It’s too important for Washington to screw this up.”
The president is in the midst of an extended campaign to pressure House Republicans to approve a Senate bill that would raise tax rates on families earning more than $250,000 per year. If Congress doesn’t act by Jan. 1, tax cuts would expire for all taxpayers and scheduled across-the-board spending cuts would be set in motion.
In making his case Wednesday, Mr. Obama noted that some GOP lawmakers are changing their minds about anti-tax pledges they have made.
“If we can get a few House Republicans to agree as well, I’ll sign this bill as soon as Congress sends it my way,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve got a pen. I’m ready to sign it.”
The White House says the reverse is also true. The president’s spokesman, Jay Carney, on Wednesday told reporters Mr. Obama is not wedded to every detail of his budget plan, but repeated the president’s hard-line promise to veto any budget bill that does not raise taxes on the top 2 percent of income earners.
“The president has also made categorically and abundantly clear that he will not sign an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for top earners,” he said. “It’s bad economic policy, and we cannot afford it. He will not sign that.”
Later Wednesday afternoon, the president also tried to rally support for his fiscal cliff plan among 15 business executives, several of whom backed Mitt Romney for president in this year’s election.
The guest list included Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, State Farm CEO Ed Rust, Caterpillar CEO Douglas Oberhelman and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson — all of whom donated to Mr. Romney and Republicans this election cycle.
The White House is hoping it can persuade members of the business community to lean on enough Republicans to agree to a debt-reduction deal that includes raising taxes on high-income earners.
“The president and his team were resoundingly reasonable in what they had to say. Obviously, they came into the meeting wanting to communicate that revenue increases are a significant part of a deal, but not the only part of a deal,” Mr. Sorenson told reporters after the meeting.
Republican lawmakers want to extend George W. Bush-era tax cuts for all classes of income, and they say the president isn’t negotiating seriously on a wide range of other fiscal issues, including deficit reduction, soaring entitlement spending and automatic budget cuts set to take effect in January.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said Wednesday that the administration isn’t making “any good-faith effort” to fix the country’s fiscal problems.
“We still believe that it is most important for us to address the economic situation in this country, where so many people are out of work,” Mr. Cantor told reporters. “That’s why we take the position, and believe strongly, that increasing marginal rates, income-tax rates, is not the way to produce growth and to put people back to work.”
Mr. Cantor noted that Erskine Bowles, the Democrat who ran Mr. Obama’s deficit commission two years ago, said he sees no serious conversation about tackling budget-busting entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
“This has to be a part of this agreement, or else we just continue to dig the hole deeper, asking folks to allow us to kick the can down the road further, and that we don’t want to do,” Mr. Cantor said.
The president said he hopes that both parties will agree on the framework of a debt-cutting deal by Christmas.
Mr. Obama, who last met with congressional leaders about the looming “fiscal cliff” on Nov. 16, tried to assure the public that he’s working hard on the problem.
“I want to assure the American people I’m doing my part,” he said. “I’m sitting down with CEOs; I’m sitting down with labor leaders. I’m talking to leaders in Congress. I am ready and able and willing and excited to go ahead and get this issue resolved in a bipartisan fashion so that American families and American businesses have some certainty going into next year.”
Noting that he is traveling to Pennsylvania on Friday to rally public support for his position, Mr. Obama said, “I’ll go anywhere and I’ll do whatever it takes to get this done.”
He said that if Congress first resolves the issue of tax cuts for the middle class, “a lot of the other stuff is going to be a lot easier” to resolve in the new year.