President Obama and Speaker of the
House John Boehner staked out their positions Friday ahead of
negotiations on a looming fiscal crisis.
Obama said that Tuesday's elections - which gave him a second term and returned the same divided Congress of the last two years - showed that voters expect "common sense and consensus" to address the potentially damaging combination of higher taxes and spending cuts that are to take effect in January.
Republicans and Democrats want to urgently address the problem because they agree that leaving current law unchanged could send the economy over a so-called fiscal cliff that could spark a new recession and send unemployment soaring.
Obama has invited congressional leaders from both his left-leaning Democrats and the conservative Republicans to the White House next week as well as business, labour and civic leaders to discuss the problem.
"It's time to get back to work, and there is plenty of work to do," Obama said at a White House reception, three days after winning re-election.
Saying that he already put forward a detailed plan during the campaign, he added: "I'm not wedded to every detail of my plan. I'm open to compromise ... new ideas."
Obama said a lot of uncertainty about the fiscal cliff would be removed if Congress allowed tax relief for 98 per cent of American taxpayers - those earning under 250,000 dollars a year - to continue into 2013.
"Let's not wait even as we are negotiating a broader spending package," he said. "That would give 98 per cent of Americans and 97 per cent of small businesses the certainty they need going into the new year."
Obama pointed out that the Democratic-led Senate had already passed a bill to freeze income tax rates on income below 250,000 dollars: "All we need is action from the House. I've got the pen ready to sign. I'm ready to do it."
Obama said he would not sign would not such a measure if it extends the rate freeze on income above 250,000 dollars a year.
Earlier Friday, Boehner postured ahead of negotiations, emphasizing that it was Obama's "opportunity to lead." At a news conference, Boehner said the US tax code was "broken" and the country could not continue spending more money than it takes in.
Boehner, leader of the Republican-dominated House, was asked for details about how negotiations would proceed.
"I don't want to box myself in, and I don't want to box anyone else in," he said.
Boehner spoke of simplifying and "cleaning up the tax code," in part by removing tax deductions and special interest loopholes, which disproportionately benefit the rich.
He said the deficit continues to be a drag on the US economy: "We can't continue spending money we don't have."
The House has passed a measure to extend all current rates for one year to allow time to overhaul the current tax system, Boehner said. He said that a simpler, more transparent tax code would result in a more efficient economy and help create jobs.
"If you have a simpler, cleaner, fairer tax code the efficiency increases exponentially," Boehner said, noting that only 85 per cent of taxes due the government are collected.
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