Obama looks to end tax breaks for wealthy

By David Lightman

McClatchy Newspapers

Published: Wednesday, June 29 2011 9:32 p.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that any deficit reduction deal with Republicans has to include ending some tax breaks for the wealthy, and he urged lawmakers of both parties to "stay here until we get it done."

"You can't reduce the deficit to the levels that it needs to be reduced without having some revenue in the mix," a feisty, sometimes defensive Obama said at his first formal news conference since March.

"And the revenue we're talking about isn't coming out of the pockets of middle-class families that are struggling," he explained. "It's coming out of folks who are doing extraordinarily well ... "

Obama had a message for those people: "You'll still be able to ride on your corporate jet. You're just going to pay a little more."

Obama was optimistic that a deal could be reached. The federal deficit is expected to reach $1.5 trillion this fiscal year and total about $7 trillion over the next decade. Obama is aiming to save $4 trillion over 10 to 12 years.

"I think we can actually bridge our differences," the president said. "Call me naive, but my expectation is that leaders are going to lead."

Republicans have balked at the idea of higher taxes, though some have signaled a willingness to curb certain breaks, such as ethanol subsidies, as long as they're couched as closing loopholes.

After the news conference, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, fired back.

"The president is sorely mistaken if he believes a bill to raise the debt ceiling and raise taxes would pass the House. The votes simply aren't there — and they aren't going to be there, because the American people know tax hikes destroy jobs," Boehner said.

Obama signaled a growing impatience with such rhetoric and defended himself against Republican charges that he hasn't shown leadership on the debt issue.

"They're in one week. They're out one week," he said of Congress. "And then they're saying, 'Obama's got to step in.' You need to be here. I've been here."

Negotiators had aimed to get a tentative deal done by the end of this week, a prospect that now seems unlikely. The Senate is scheduled to leave Thursday and not return until July 11. The House of Representatives began a recess last Friday and returns on July 6.

Obama's wide-ranging, hourlong press conference was his first since the U.S. military mission in Libya began about three months ago.

While he was adamant that the Libya mission was proceeding as he planned, the public is divided over his handling of the operation, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll. The poll found that 44 percent of registered voters approved of Obama's action and 40 percent disapproved.

The poll of 801 registered voters was taken June 15-23. Margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

"We have done exactly what I said we would do," Obama said about the Libya mission.

He also had warm praise for New York's decision last week to legalize same-sex marriage. Obama has said in the past that his own position was "evolving," and on Wednesday he praised New York for how it handled the issue — without endorsing the outcome.

Obama said of the debate, "It was contentious, it was emotional but ultimately they made a decision to recognize civil marriages. And I think that's exactly how things should work."

The Obama administration and Congress have struggled for weeks to find a way to reduce deficits. An agreement would be attached to an increase in the debt limit. Unless that limit, which currently stands at $14.3 trillion, is raised by Aug. 2, the government risks default, which is likely to trigger economic chaos.

Last week, the talks chaired by Vice President Joe Biden ended when the two congressional Republican participants quit, citing Democrats' refusal to take tax increases off the table. Republican leaders insisted that Obama get personally involved.

Since then he has become more engaged, meeting Monday with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Wednesday with Senate Democratic leaders.

Obama called on Congress to act more like his two daughters, who he said do their homework well in advance.

"They don't wait 'til the night before," he said. "They're not pulling all-nighters."

(c) 2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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