FALLS CHURCH, Va.
President Barack Obama, trying to put a personal touch on fiscal-cliff negotiations, visited a northern Virginia family’s basement apartment Thursday to press his hard line on tax-rate increases for the wealthy.
“We’re in the midst of the Christmas season,” Obama said, sitting at a table in the Santana family’s Falls Church home. “I think the American people are counting on this getting solved. The closer it gets to the brink, the more stress there is going to be.”
Obama and lawmakers have until the end of the year to avert across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases. The president reiterated the firm stance he has taken in recent days, warning that he’s willing to let that economy-rattling double whammy take effect if Republicans don’t drop their opposition to higher tax rates for the wealthy.
“Just to be clear, I’m not going to sign any package that somehow prevents the top rate from going up for the folks in the top 2 percent,” Obama said. “But I do remain optimistic that we can get something done that is good for families like this one and is good for the American economy.”
The president’s quick trip — just a 15-minute drive from the White House — was part of an effort to rally public support for his tax proposals. The family whose home he visited is one of many who shared their stories online, at the White House’s urging, of how they would be hurt if their taxes went up at the end of the year. The president also will travel to Detroit on Monday.
Obama and House Speaker John Boehner spoke on the phone Wednesday, their first known conversation in nearly a week. Neither side provided details of the call, but the White House said the lines of communication with Capitol Hill Republicans were open and there had been multiple conversations between staff.
Unless the president and Republicans reach a deal, George W. Bush-era tax rates will expire on all income earners Jan. 1. Obama wants to continue them for 98 percent of Americans, while letting them expire on the upper-income earners.
If Republicans try to block that effort, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, the administration will “absolutely” let the country go over the fiscal cliff.
The size of the problem is so large it can’t be solved without rates going up,” he told CNBC on Wednesday.
Geithner drew a fierce response from Republicans. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah called his statement “stunning and irresponsible.” He added, “Going over the fiscal cliff will put our economy, jobs, people’s paychecks and retirement at risk, but that is what the White House wants, according to Secretary Geithner, if they don’t get their way.”