In his first public remarks since winning re-election, President Obama on Friday spelled out his priorities for upcoming negotiations with congressional leaders to prevent the nation from falling off a "fiscal cliff" at the end of the year. If lawmakers cannot come to a deficit reduction agreement, $1.2 trillion in spending cuts will automatically take place in January.
Flanked by a diverse group of middle-class Americans, Obama reiterated his call for the nation's wealthiest to pay higher taxes to produce revenue so that the inevitable cuts are not borne by the middle class and the poor. He said that the outcome of the presidential election made clear that the American public agrees with his plan.
"This was a central question during the election,’’ Obama said in brief remarks delivered in the East Room of the White House. "It was debated over and over again, and on Tuesday night we found that a majority of Americans agreed with my approach.’’
He also said that he's open to compromise but would not accept "any approach that isn't balanced" by a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. The Bush-era tax cuts will expire at the end of the year, triggering the automatic cuts in domestic programs and the defense budget. In addition, a payroll tax cut will expire.
The president said that he has invited congressional leaders to meet with him next week to begin budget discussions and seek common ground. He also plans to include leaders from business and other sectors in the process.
He said that he, too, is willing to compromise but maintained the Republicans' opposition to tax increases for anyone.
"Raising tax rates will slow down our ability to create the jobs everyone says they want," he said, adding that small businesses would be particularly hard hit.
Toya Powell, director of government engagement for the U.S. Black Chamber, Inc., was one the 164 middle-class Americans and other stakeholders invited to hear the president speak. She fears that if Obama and Republican leaders cannot reach an agreement, African-Americans and other minorities will suffer most.
"The [median household] wealth of an African-American household is $5,000. Given that that's already a low base to start from, if taxes increase it reduces their ability to pay bills, address medical bills, get adequate health care for their families," she told BET.com. "And it would be so sudden they wouldn't have adequate time to prepare for that adjustment."
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(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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