The White House won't require tax rates on upper-income Americans to rise to Clinton-era levels in a deficit deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff," officials said.
"The president is willing to look at anything that's sensible and realistic and that is mathematically sound," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters after being asked if the top rates needed to go to 39.6 percent from 35 percent as President Barack Obama has maintained was needed to reach his target of an additional $1.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years.
"But our point on rates is that they are the sensible, clean, simple way and proven way to achieve the kind of revenue target that we've talked about, as you've seen in the president's proposal, a proposal which includes loophole closures and deduction caps, as well, but ones that are realistic," Carney said.
Erskine Bowles, a chief of staff in Bill Clinton's presidency and the Democratic co-chairman of Obama's 2010 deficit-reduction panel, first described the White House's flexibility.
He said Obama was willing to consider limiting high-income tax deductions in exchange for not insisting tax rates above $250,000 a year rise. Republican leaders have said they were open to considering an end to some deductions.
Bowles also expressed pessimism a deal could be reached in Washington's current partisan climate, divided Congress and dwindling legislative calendar.
He put the chances of a deal by the end of the year at one in three.
"I believe the probability is that we are going over the cliff," he said, "and I think that will be horrible."
The cliff is more than $500 billion in annual automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to kick in after New Year's Day.
Obama said Wednesday he wants a deal by Christmas.
"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, American businesses, have some certainty going into next year," Obama said Wednesday.
"Now is the time for us to work on what we all agree to, which is let's keep middle-class taxes low," he said. "That's what our economy needs. That's what the American people deserve.
"And if we get this part of it right, then a lot of the other issues surrounding deficit reduction in a fair and balanced and responsible way are going to be a whole lot easier," Obama said. "And if we get this wrong, the economy is going to go south."
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the White House's lead negotiator in the budget talks, was to travel to Capitol Hill Thursday to meet with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other congressional leaders.
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