President Barack Obama appealed to business leaders Tuesday in a lengthy television interview, emphasizing the role that they have to play in long-term fiscal stability and advancing national interests, as lawmakers offered counterpoints on Capitol Hill.
The White House chose to have Obama sit for the interview with the financial news outlet Bloomberg Television in the Map Room.
“I recognize that, in the first four years, my relationship with the business community sometimes was skewed, because we’re trying to do some tough things like health care reform and most particularly around welfare — Wall Street reform and — and Dodd-Frank,” Obama said. “But in conversations I’ve had with CEOs, what I’ve encouraged them to tell me is, how can — how can we work together so that you can succeed?”
Specifically, Obama criticized the Monday offer to avert the tax and spending mess that looms at the end of December made by Speaker John A. Boehner and other House Republicans. Obama said it was not sufficient and again stressed the need to allow tax rates to increase on taxpayers in the top bracket.
“The issue right now that’s relevant is the acknowledgment that if we’re going to raise revenues that are sufficient to balance with the very tough cuts that we’ve already made and the further reforms in entitlements that I’m prepared to make, that we’re going to have to see the rates on the top 2 percent go up. And we’re not going to be able to get a deal without it,” Obama said. “It’s not me being stubborn. It’s not me being partisan. It’s just a matter of math. You know, there’s been a lot of talk that somehow we can raise $800 billion or $1 trillion worth of revenue just by closing loopholes and deductions, but a lot of your viewers understand that the only way to do that would be if you completely eliminated, for example, charitable deductions.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., echoed that point when speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon.
“They’ve got to come [up] with some specific revenue,” Reid said of House Republicans. “It’s a simple question, as President [Bill] Clinton said, of arithmetic. Arithmetic. You can’t get from here to there unless you raise the rates. You can’t do it.”
In the Tuesday interview, Obama said that if there are to be specific entitlement cuts, there should also be significant assurances about the revenue side of the ledger.
“What I’m not going to do is to agree to a plan in which we have some revenue that is vague and potentially comes out of the pockets of middle-class families in exchange for some very specific and tough entitlement cuts that would affect seniors or other folks who are vulnerable,” he said. “That’s not the kind of balanced plan that I think would be good for growth, good for the economy, or good for the American people.”
Obama insisted that the top rate needs to be allowed to increase from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, while suggesting that rates could eventually be lower once there’s an overhaul of the tax code.
For their part, GOP lawmakers continued to criticize the plan floated last week by Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner in meetings at the Capitol with Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“The president has to lead. The president has to come up with a plan that is actually possible. You can come up with all the things you want to that you know for sure that can’t happen in the House of Representatives, and that’s not negotiating at all,” said Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt of Missouri.
Republicans have opposed the idea of effectively granting the executive branch a process to increase the debt limit without congressional authorization, as envisioned in the Geithner proposal.
In what seems sure to become a GOP talking point, McConnell criticized that provision as a “permanent authority really for the president to borrow money from the Chinese in perpetuity to fund out outrageous deficits and debt.”
Obama, however, warned in the Bloomberg interview against hurting the economy by an effort to “manufacture another debt ceiling crisis.”