Washington: President Barack Obama, accused by Republican House Speaker John Boehner of pushing the country towards the "fiscal cliff," said yesterday he was ready to work with congressional Republicans on a comprehensive plan to cut budget deficits as long it included higher taxes on the wealthy.
The president also asked Congress to approve a $60.4 billion aid package to help East Coast states rebuild after Superstorm Sandy, well short of their initial requests.
Obama is battling Republican lawmakers over how to avoid the combination of sharp tax hikes and spending cuts set to kick in early next year that could plunge the economy back into recession.
In his weekly radio address, the president renewed his call for Republicans to extend middle-class tax cuts while letting tax rates go up for the wealthy. He also said he would be willing to find ways to bring down healthcare costs and make additional cuts to government social safety-net programmes.
"We can and should do more than just extend middle-class tax cuts," he said. "I stand ready to work with Republicans on a plan that spurs economic growth, creates jobs and reduces our deficit-a plan that gives both sides some of what they want."
Republicans have balked at tax rate increases, which they say would hurt small businesses and brake economic growth.
With three weeks left to avert the fiscal crunch, Boehner said on Friday the administration had adopted a "my way or the highway" approach and was engaging in reckless talk about going over the "fiscal cliff."
But Obama said his re-election last month and Democratic gains in both houses of Congress showed decisive support for his approach.
"After all, this was a central question in the election," he said.
"A clear majority of Americans - Democrats, Republicans and Independents - agreed with a balanced approach that asks something from everyone, but a little more from those who can. Boehner and the House leadership submitted their terms for a deal to the White House on Monday, after Obama offered his opening proposal last week.
Aid for repairs
Officials from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, which were hit hard by the storm, had said they needed at least a combined $82 billion to make emergency repairs and upgrade infrastructure to prevent similar damage from future storms.