SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - President Barack Obama said Friday he is open to a compromise with Republicans on extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans although he argued it would be fiscally irresponsible.
Obama said he plans to meet next week with congressional leaders of both parties and discuss what to do about the reduced Bush-era tax rates that are set to expire at the end of the year.
"There may be a whole host of ways to compromise around those issues," the president told reporters at a news conference during his Asia trip. "But I've made very clear what my priorities are."
Obama reiterated that his top priority is ensuring that "we make the middle-class tax cuts permanent - that we give certainty to the 98 percent of Americans who are affected by those tax breaks. I don't want to see their income taxes spike up, not only because they need relief after having gone through a horrendous recession, but also because it would be bad for the economy."
Republicans, who captured control of the House and gained seats in the Senate in last week's elections, are using their new clout to insist on extending the lower tax rates for all Americans, including those in the highest income brackets - individuals making more than $200,000 a year and married couples making more than $250,000.
Congressional budget analysts estimate that making the lower- and middle-income tax cuts permanent would add a little more than $3 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.
Extending tax cuts for the wealthy would cost an additional $700 billion and that, Obama said, "would be fiscally irresponsible." He noted that Republicans are saying "their number one priority is making sure that we deal with our debt and our deficit."
Congress convenes next week for a post-election session, with Democrats still in control until a new legislative session begins in January. But they'll need GOP help to get the 60 votes needed to pass any tax bill in the Senate.