'Constructive' Fiscal Summit Between Obama, GOP

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A deal must be reached by Dec. 31. But the parties remain particularly at odds over whether to extend Bush-era income tax cuts for all Americans or just those earning less than $200,000 a year, or $250,000 a year for families. Republicans insist tax rates should not rise for anyone, while Obama has vowed to hike rates on the top 2 percent of earners.

The stakes could not be higher: the Congressional Budget Office reported earlier this month that failure to reach a compromise -- triggering tax increases on all Americans and deep cuts to government spending on social programs and defense -- would send the U.S. economy back into recession and send unemployment skyrocketing.

Ahead of the summit, Obama has signaled that he will make a concerted push for Congress to immediately enact the one thing all sides agree on: extending Bush tax rates for families earning $250,000 or less, or 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses.

Administration officials say the president's starting point for broader negotiations will be his call for $1.6 trillion in new revenue over the next 10 years as reflected in his budget proposal and a push for "balance" in any deficit reduction plan, meaning that it would include both spending cuts as well as new tax revenue.

"The president will not sign under any circumstances an extension of tax cuts for the top two percent of American earners," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday.

Carney insisted Obama remains open to new ideas on how to raise additional revenue and close the budget gap, but added there is "no wiggle room when it comes to math. The math has to add up."

A senior aide to Boehner told ABC News the House Speaker would be focused on preserving his commitment to lower tax rates and spending cuts, though he has expressed openness to increasing overall tax revenue through reform of the tax code.

"This framework is consistent with the president's call for a 'balanced' approach," the Boehner aide said. "As a sign of our seriousness, Republicans have put revenue on the table, provided it comes from tax reform and is accompanied by spending cuts. President Obama must now follow suit by telling the American people what spending cuts he's willing to make."

It's unclear whether changes to entitlement programs -- the drivers of skyrocketing government spending and debt -- will be a focus of discussion at the first summit on fiscal negotiations. Post-election rhetoric from the parties has, to this point, generally focused only on taxes.

Still, Obama said Wednesday that he's gunning for a "big deal."

"I want a comprehensive deal. I want to see if we can, you know, at least for the foreseeable future provide certainty to businesses and the American people," he said. "But right now what I want to make sure of is, is that taxes on middle-class families don't go up, and there's a very easy way to do that. We could get that done by next week."

Boehner voiced cautious optimism for the talks this week, saying that "if you listen closely to what the president has had to say and listened closely to what I have had to say, there are no barriers here to sitting down and beginning to work through this process."

Over the past few days, Obama and top administration officials have met with key stakeholders in fiscal talks. The president hosted labor union leaders on Tuesday and a dozen CEOs and business leaders on Wednesday. A delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors met with Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday, while representatives of Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength met separately with other administration officials.

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