In his first press conference since his re-election, President Barack Obama sought to paint Republicans into a corner on tax hikes, and pleaded with them to pass a measure that would freeze the Jan. 1 increases for Americans earning less than $250,000 before working on a more comprehensive deficit deal.
"The Senate has already passed a law like this, Democrats in the House are ready to pass a law like this, and I hope Republicans in the House come on board, too," Obama said to a room full of White House reporters. "We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy. We should at least do what we agree on. At least give folks some certainty before the holiday season."
Though he repeatedly said he is open to compromise when it comes to a 'grand bargain,' Obama was skeptical that real deficit reduction could be achieved by just reforming the tax code by eliminating certain deductions and loopholes and not increasing rates on the top 2 percent, something Republicans have opposed.
"There are loopholes that can be closed … but when it comes to the top 2 percent, what I'm not going to do is to extend further a tax cut for folks who don't need it, which would cost close to $1 trillion," Obama said. "And it's very difficult to see how you make up that $1 trillion, if we're serious about deficit reduction, just by closing loopholes and deductions. The math tends not to work."
The president said his position should come as no surprise, as it was a central tenet of his re-election campaign and one of the major differences between himself and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
"I argued for a balanced, responsible approach and part of that included making sure that the wealthiest Americans paid a little bit more. A majority of voters agreed with me. By the way, more voters agreed with me on this issue than voted for me," he said.
Obama added he's confident a deal can be made and says reform of entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid must be part of the deal, something Republicans and business leaders strongly support.
"I believe we have to take a serious look at how we reform our entitlements because healthcare costs continue to be the biggest driver of our deficits. There is a package to be shaped," he said.
According to a new Gallup poll, 45 percent of Americans favor an equal balance of tax increases and spending cuts to reduce the federal budget deficit, up from 32 percent last year.
"At the same time, the percentage favoring an emphasis on spending cuts is now 40 percent, down from 50 percent last year, while the percentage in favor of reducing the deficit primarily through tax increases is unchanged at 11 percent," writes Jeffrey M. Jones, a Gallup poll analyst in a memo accompanying the survey results.
"Overall, as was the case last year, most Americans, now 85 percent, are comfortable with achieving deficit reduction mostly or equally with spending cuts," he wrote.
House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican Obama and congressional Democrats will be negotiating a deficit reduction deal with, issued a release soon after the president finished speaking.
"2013 should be the year we begin to solve our debt through tax reform and entitlement reform," Boehner said. "This will bring jobs home, result in a stronger, healthier economy. And a stronger, healthier economy means more Americans working and more revenues, which is what the president is seeking."
Bipartisan congressional leaders are scheduled to meet with Obama on Friday, following meetings the president has held earlier in the week with labor and business leaders to rally support for a 'big deal' that would help the country avoid a series of across-the-board federal spending cuts and tax increases for all Americans.
Obama, who fielded 16 questions from 10 reporters, also addressed the on-going controversy surrounding Gen. David Petraeus, the potential controversial nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as Secretary of State, immigration reform, and climate change policy, during the nearly hour long press conference.