With mere weeks looming before the fiscal cliff deadline, President Obama said it's crucial to assure taxes won't go up for the majority of American families and small businesses who make less than $250,000 a year.
"If we get that in place, we are actually removing half of the fiscal cliff. Half of the danger to our economy is removed by that simple step and what we can then do is shape a process whereby we look at tax reform, which I'm very eager to do," Obama said during his first post-election press conference today. "I think we can simplify our tax system, make it more efficient. We can eliminate loopholes and deductions that have a distorting effect on our economy.
Despite extending Bush-era tax cuts in his first presidential term, Obama said he would not do so this time around in regards to the wealthiest 2 percent "that we can't afford and, according to economists, will have the least positive effect on our economy."
"What I said at the time is what I meant, which is this was a one-time proposition," Obama said. "What I have told leaders privately as well as publicly is we cannot afford to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy."
Obama added if the nation goes over the fiscal cliff at the end of the year and no compromise is reached between parties, it would be a "huge shock" for middle-class families. Obama also said a modest tax increase for wealthy families wouldn't "break their backs."
"I've got one mandate, and the mandate is to help middle-class families and families trying to get into the middle class," he said.
Furthermore, if parties don't reach a compromise on the fiscal cliff, taxes will go up across the board, Obama said.
"That doesn't make sense," he said. "Our economy can't afford that right now. Certainly no middle-class family could afford that right now and nobody in either party says they want it to happen."
Obama said he believed both parties could work together and reach compromise on the fiscal cliff by the end of the year and was also "open to new ideas" if Republican counterparts or Democrats had ways for the U.S. to raise revenues without holding the middle class "hostage."
Obama also addressed several other topics during the press conference including immigration reform, the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans, a future meet-up with presidential contender Mitt Romney, and the David Petraeus scandal. In terms of the latter, Obama said he was "withholding judgment" until an FBI investigation was over yet added Petraeus served the country with "great distinction."
"We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done and my main hope right now is he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career," he said.
Obama met today with allies from labor and liberal groups, and invited a group of CEOs to the White House for a mid-afternoon session, also to focus on the threat posed to the economic recovery by the combination of tax increases and spending cuts.
The CEOs have urged Congress to extend the Bush-era tax cuts until a tax overhaul can be reached and prevent the spending cuts from taking place. The executives say the uncertainty over the fiscal cliff is hurting the nation's business climate and preventing hiring.
Among the CEOs attending the meeting are General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, who chairs Obama's jobs council, and American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault and Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, who are members of the council.
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