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Obama on Fiscal Cliff: ‘I’ll Compromise,’ but Not on Taxing Top Earners

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Addressing the looming fiscal cliff, President Obama said Friday that while he’s not “wedded” to every detail of the plan he put forward previously to reduce the nation’s deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade, he will not compromise when it comes to making sure the wealthy pay their fair share.

Noting the “urgency” of acting by year end, Obama said that the nation faces “a series of deadlines that require us to make major decisions about how to pay our deficit down—decisions that will have a huge impact on the economy and the middle class, both now and in the future.”

Pointing out that he worked last year with both “Democrats and Republicans to cut a trillion dollars’ worth of spending that we just couldn’t afford,” Obama said he “intends to work with both parties to do more—and that includes making reforms that will bring down the cost of health care so we can strengthen programs like Medicaid and Medicare for the long haul.”

House Speaker John Boehner commented Friday morning just before Obama’s speech that “this is an opportunity for the president to lead. This is his moment to engage the Congress and work towards a solution that can pass both chambers.”

Shortly after Obama was re-elected Boehner said “we’re ready to be led.” But just how far Republicans will follow Obama’s lead remains uncertain.

In his Friday afternoon speech, Obama echoed comments he made previously that “we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. If we’re serious about reducing the deficit, we have to combine spending cuts with revenue—and that means asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more in taxes. That’s how we did it in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president.”

Obama said that while he’s “open to compromise” to solve the nation’s fiscal crisis, “I refuse to accept any approach that isn’t balanced. I am not going to ask students and seniors and middle-class families to pay down the entire deficit while people like me, making over $250,000, aren’t asked to pay a dime more in taxes. I’m not going to do that.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the same day that in re-electing Obama on Tuesday, “Americans from across the political spectrum made it clear that they want a balanced approach to tax policy that asks millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more.”

Said Reid: “The sooner Republicans come to grips with this reality, the sooner we can forge an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff and prevent a tax hike on middle class Americans.”

Reid said the House should pass “immediately” legislation that has already passed the Senate that cuts taxes for Americans making less than $250,000. “Our bill cuts taxes for small businesses. When Republicans talk about small businesses, they are really trying to protect millionaires like Donald Trump,” Reid said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel, R-Ky., said in a statement, “I was glad to hear the President’s focus on jobs and growth and his call for consensus. But there is no consensus on raising tax rates, which would undermine the jobs and growth we all believe are important to our economy.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., released a statement after Obama’s speech stating that he “welcomed the president’s call today for action on the fiscal cliff and the need for Congress to work together to address one of our nation’s greatest economic challenges. The election is over, and it’s time to move forward.”

Congress, Baucus said, “must quickly come together around a balanced plan that provides some certainty to American families and businesses, supports jobs, expands opportunity and puts America’s economy back on track. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get this job done.”