WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is taking his case for avoiding a potentially unsettling "fiscal cliff" to the Philadelphia suburbs, employing campaign-style tactics in hopes of mobilizing public support for his plan to hike taxes on the wealthy. The trip comes amid signs of impatience in the negotiations between Republican leaders and the White House.
Obama was scheduled to go to Hatfield, Pa., to pressure Republicans to extend existing Bush-era tax rates for households earning $250,000 or less, while allowing increases to kick in for those with incomes above that threshold.
White House officials believe Friday's trip will build momentum for the president's case, even as Republicans describe it as an irritant and an obstacle to fruitful talks. The White House said Friday that Obama will insist on higher taxes for the top 2 percent of earners during his Pennsylvania trip and that he would cast Republicans as an obstacle to a deal. Republicans have said they are open to new tax revenue but not higher rates.
Obama was to tour and speak at the Rodon Group manufacturing facility, showcasing the company as an example of a business that depends on middle-class consumers during the holiday season. The company manufactures parts for K'NEX Brands, a construction toy company whose products include Tinkertoy, K'NEX Building Sets and Angry Birds Building Sets.
His trip comes a day after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met privately with congressional leaders and presented a proposal calling for $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over 10 years and immediate spending to help the unemployed and struggling homeowners. The proposal, which Democratic officials described as a negotiation's opening bid, includes plans for legislation in 2013 aimed at saving $400 billion over 10 years from Medicare and other benefit programs.
Administration officials said the offer constituted much of what Obama has suggested in budget proposals.
One new feature in the Geithner plan is a call for increasing the nation's debt limit without the need for congressional approval. Under last year's debt ceiling deal, Obama simply had to notify Congress that he was raising the debt ceiling, a move that could be blocked only if both houses of Congress approved resolutions of disapproval that Obama could veto. The administration wants a permanent extension of the debt ceiling with a similar legislative arrangement and with no offsetting spending cuts, as demanded by Republicans.
Following a closed-door meeting with Geithner, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, declared "no substantive progress has been made between the White House and the House" in the two weeks since congressional leaders met with Obama at the White House.
"Unfortunately, many Democrats continue to rule out sensible spending cuts that must be part of any significant agreement that will reduce our deficit," Boehner said.
At the White House, presidential press secretary Jay Carney took on a confrontational tone, saying: "There can be no deal without rates on top earners going up."
"This should not be news to anyone on Capitol Hill. It is certainly not news to anyone in America who was not in a coma during the campaign season," he said.
The tenor of the public remarks, however, suggested the hard bargaining was about to begin. Four weeks remain before the year-end deadline and negotiations such as these often don't gel until time is running out.
For Obama, the trip to Pennsylvania is part of a strategy to press his case publicly even while negotiating privately. He has already met with small business owners and with middle-class families in separate White House events. He has also invited business and labor leaders to the White House as well as Democratic operatives who can echo his plans on the airwaves.
Associated Press writers David Espo and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.