"We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy, and we should at least do what we agree on, and that's keep middle class taxes low," he said.
He said enactment of legislation along those lines would eliminate half of the fiscal cliff, and he suggested that he and lawmakers could then "shape a process whereby we look at tax reform" and "take a serious look at how we reform our entitlements, because health care costs continue to be the biggest driver of our deficits.
Obama signed legislation two years ago extending the Bush-era tax cuts in their entirety after saying he wouldn't.
Asked why this time will be different, he said, "What I said at the time was what I meant, which is that this was a one-time proposition."
Now, he said, legislation that keeps most of the cuts in place but not those for the upper-income earners would be "actually removing half the fiscal cliff."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president would bring to the table a proposal for $1.6 trillion in new taxes on business and the wealthy when he begins discussions with congressional Republicans, a figure that Obama outlined in his most recent budget plan. The targeted revenue is twice the amount Obama discussed with Republican leaders during debt talks during the summer of 2011.
Carney said the figure, combined with $1.1 trillion in spending cuts already signed into law, would reduce deficits by $4 trillion.
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