Aides to President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner say they're talking about a debt deal -- they just want the other guy to be a little more specific.
On Monday, Obama's team called on Boehner and other Republicans to be more precise about higher taxes on wealthy Americans; Boehner's office said they await more details from the president on spending cuts.
Stumping for his plan at a truck engine plant near Detroit, Obama told autoworkers he is "willing to compromise a little bit," but will insist on higher tax rates for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.
"We can solve this problem," Obama said a day after meeting with Boehner privately at the White House.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama "does believe that we can reach an agreement," but added: "What we haven't seen yet is any specificity at all from Republicans on (tax) revenue."
Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesman, said that "discussions with the White House are taking place" and that Boehner has proposed a plan that includes $800 billion over 10 years in new tax revenue by closing loopholes and ending deductions.
"We continue to wait for the president to identify the spending cuts he's willing to make," Buck said.
Both sides are seeking to avoid the "fiscal cliff," a series of tax hikes and budget cuts that take effect next year if a debt deal falls through.
In addition to selling his economic plan, Obama weighed in on a big local issue during his visit to the Detroit area: plans by the Michigan Legislature to enact right-to-work laws that would make the payment of union dues voluntary.
"What they're talking about is giving you the right to make less money," Obama told the union crowd at the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. The "so-called right-to-work laws" have nothing to do with economics, he added. "They have everything to do with politics."
As for the fiscal cliff, the keys to an agreement continue to be taxes and spending cuts.
Obama wants to extend most of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts due to expire Dec. 31, but not for Americans who make more than $250,000 a year. The president said the government needs more revenue to help reduce a debt that now tops $16 trillion.
Boehner and other Republicans say they oppose any increase in tax rates, and have proposed more revenue through ending loopholes and certain tax deductions.
Even so, some Republican senators have signaled a willingness to support higher tax rates on the very wealthy if they are accompanied by meaningful spending cuts, including in the fast-growing entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. This group includes Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
In calling for more specificity on tax revenue, Obama and aides questioned whether closing loopholes and ending deductions would raise the $800 billion claimed in the Republican plan without touching such popular items as deductions for charitable contributions and home mortgage payments.
Both the White House and congressional Republicans pointed out that, without an agreement, all of the Bush tax cuts expire and all Americans will face a tax hike. Saying that amounts to higher tax bills of about $2,200 for the average family of four, Obama told workers in Michigan: "That's a hit you can't afford to take."
Officials would like to strike a deal before Christmas but would have to move fast. Even if Obama and Boehner agree on a plan, it would still have to be approved by the Republican-run House of Representatives and the Democratic-led Senate.
Obama's visit to Michigan was the latest in a series of events designed to apply political pressure to the Republicans.
Among the tactics are efforts to mobilize Obama's supporters in the recent presidential campaign. Seeking to maintain its voter database, the Obama campaign sent an e-mail to backers Monday urging them to call members of Congress -- and included a script.
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