President Barack Obama told CEOs Wednesday that his insistence on higher tax rates for the wealthy was “not out of spite” but out of a need for more revenue — while warning the GOP that he would no longer allow Republicans to use the debt limit as a bargaining chip.
“Nobody wants to get this done more than me,” Obama told CEOs from the Business Roundtable on Wednesday about reaching a deal averting the fiscal cliff and setting up a long-term deal on the nation’s finances.
The president clarified his insistence on higher tax rates on the wealthy. “We’re not insisting on rates out of spite or partisan bickering,” Obama said. The president said that he doesn’t see any other way of reaching the revenue needed for a balanced deficit package unless rates go up. The president has sought $1.6 trillion in revenue over the next decade — Republicans have offered $800 billion, with the proviso that rates not go up.
Obama said he doesn’t see a way to reach enough revenue by reducing deductions and loopholes alone, suggesting that, at most, such provisions might raise $300 billion to $400 billion, given that Congress would be unlikely to eliminate some tax breaks, such as the charitable deduction, for the wealthy.
“The notion that we’re just going to eliminate charitable deductions is unlikely,” Obama said.
Republican aides had earlier Wednesday pointed to Obama’s statement last year that $1.2 trillion could be raised on the wealthy without raising tax rates.
Obama also told the CEOs that while they would all be paying higher tax rates, it would not affect their lifestyles or the economy.
Once Republican leaders agree that tax rates have to go up on the wealthy, Obama said, the two sides could reach a deal quickly, and he suggested they aren’t that far apart on spending cuts.
“We can probably solve this in about a week,” he said. “It’s not that tough.”
Obama also took dead aim at the “Boehner rule,” although without naming the speaker. Boehner has insisted that all debt limit increases be accompanied by equivalent spending cuts, although he has not put a timetable on when those cuts would have to occur.
Obama ripped the idea of repeated debt limit showdowns as bad for the CEOs in the room and the economy and appeared to reference Boehner saying that there would be a “price to pay” for averting a debt default crisis.
Obama said if the GOP tries to use the debt limit as leverage next year, that “is not a game that I will play.”
“We’ve got to break that habit before it starts,” Obama said.
Obama’s Treasury Department earlier Wednesday reiterated the president’s call for nearly unlimited authority to raise the debt ceiling, with Congress having to vote first to disapprove the increase and then to override a veto to block it. That proposal has been summarily rejected by Republicans.
Such a mechanism — dubbed by Democrats the “McConnell provision” after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — was included in the law that increased the debt ceiling last year, and Obama has proposed establishing it permanently as part of a deal to steer clear of the fiscal cliff’s automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect at year’s end.
“The McConnell Provision received broad bipartisan support last year,” Jenni LeCompte, assistant Treasury secretary for public affairs, wrote in a blog post. “In fact, it was one of those rare policy proposals that received support from both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times editorial boards.”
The debt limit is set to be reached by the end of the year, but Treasury can take extraordinary measures to extend the government’s borrowing capacity until the first few months of 2013.