WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has rejected an idea put forward by House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans to close unspecified tax loopholes in order to pay for extending all tax cuts as part of a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. Obama's simple explanation: I won.
"But when it comes to the top 2 percent, what I'm not going to do is to extend further a tax cut for folks who don't need it, which would cost close to a trillion dollars. And it's very difficult to see how you make up that trillion dollars, if we're serious about deficit reduction, just by closing loopholes and deductions," the president said at a White House news conference on Wednesday.
"The math tends not to work," he said.
He then pivoted to the campaign. "If there was one thing that everybody understood, that was a big difference between myself and Mr. Romney, it was when it comes to how we reduce our deficit, I argued for a balanced, responsible approach -- and part of that included making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay a little bit more," he said. "By the way, more voters agreed with me on this issue than voted for me."
"The only question now is, are we going to hold the middle class hostage in order to go ahead and let that happen?" said Obama.
The answer was a firm reply to Republicans who have said they are open to closing as-of-yet-unspecified loopholes as part of tax reform while they remain opposed to raising tax rates.
"Take away the loopholes," said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday. "That's a better way to do it."
Some Senate Democrats are said to favor that approach, too.
While both Democrats and Republicans generally support closing loopholes in the abstract, naming actual loopholes to remove is politically thorny because many of them have powerful constituencies.
In a follow-up question on loopholes, Obama said he wouldn't "slam the door in their face" if Republicans came up with an approach that raised revenue without raising rates. However, he soon returned to his original position and said he didn't want to get into a "situation where the wealthy aren't paying more or aren't paying as much as they should and middle-class families are paying the difference."
Obama held the same position against extending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy prior to an earlier expiration date at the end of 2010, but ultimately agreed to an extension as part of a deal creating a payroll tax cut and extending unemployment insurance. He said Wednesday that the 2010 trade-off was a one-time thing.
"Two years ago the economy was in a different situation," the president said. "What I said at the time was what I meant. This was a one-time proposition."