WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama told business leaders on Wednesday that a “fiscal cliff” deal was possible within about a week if Republicans compromise on taxes, and he warned lawmakers he would not engage in another debt ceiling standoff.
Obama, speaking to the Business Roundtable group of chief executives, said Republican leaders in Congress had to accept the reality that tax rates must rise on the wealthiest Americans to achieve a fiscal deal.
“We’ve some movement in the last several days among some Republicans, I think there’s a recognition that maybe they can accept some rate increases as long as it’s combined with serious entitlement reform and additional spending cuts,” he said.
“If we can get the leadership on the Republican side to take that framework, acknowledge that reality, then the numbers actually aren’t that far apart. Another way of putting this is we can probably solve this in about a week. It’s not that tough,” Obama said.
Obama won re-election last month largely on a pledge to raise tax rates for the top two percent of U.S. earners. The White House and Republicans in Congress are at a stalemate over how to avoid a “fiscal cliff” of spending cuts and tax hikes that starts to take effect in January.
Republicans say raising taxes on the wealthy would hurt a still weak U.S. economy.
Hoping to avoid another standoff over the U.S. debt ceiling, the president made clear he would not engage in a fight that tied concessions from the White House to lawmakers’ votes to avoid a default.
“If Congress in any way suggests that they are going to tie negotiations to debt ceiling votes and take us to the brink of default once again as part of a budget negotiation ... I will not play that game,” he said.
A standoff between the White House and congressional Republicans in 2011 brought the country perilously close to defaulting on its debt and resulted in an embarrassing debt rating downgrade for the United States.
Obama also said the global economy was soft and Europe would be “in the doldrums for quite some time.”
Reporting by Jeff Mason, Mark Felsenthal, Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Jackie Frank and Vicki Allen