WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is lobbying business and labor groups to support his plan to avoid an impending fiscal cliff, telling the two sides he remains committed to requiring the wealthy to pay more in taxes.
Obama was meeting Wednesday with about a dozen business executives as the White House and Congress face a series of expiring tax cuts and across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect because lawmakers failed to reach a deal to reduce the federal debt. Business groups want an agreement before the end of the year, warning that the uncertainty could roil the financial markets and harm the economic recovery.
The White House meeting follows a gathering of labor leaders and liberal groups Tuesday in which participants said Obama remained clear that he would push for his campaign pledge of making the wealthiest Americans pay more in taxes.
"We're prepared to stand up to make sure there is shared sacrifice here, so the rich actually start paying their fair share and the middle class don't get soaked for that," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
Obama was expected to speak in greater detail on the year-ending lame-duck session of Congress at a White House news conference Wednesday. Failure to act would lead to spending cuts and higher taxes on all Americans, with middle-income families paying an average of about $2,000 more next year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, part of the Democratic leadership team, said Wednesday that many "many Republicans believe now is the time to sit down and talk more revenue." Durbin said the number of GOP lawmakers in the Senate willing to work toward accommodation now totals 20.
But Durbin also said "there is a great distance" between Republicans in the House and Senate, "and basically it comes down to the question of whether Speaker (John) Boehner is willing to look for a bipartisan solution."
Durbin told MSNBC he thinks lawmakers should "use this fiscal cliff" to resolve a problem that has plagued Congress for four years.
The president pledged to raise taxes on the rich during his first term but backed off his stance in late 2010 after Republicans seized control of the House in the midterm election. During his meeting with labor leaders, Obama said he was not going to bend on letting tax cuts expire for top wage earners, according to a participant in the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private session. The president said the tax issue was clear during the election and said he had extended those enacted during the George W. Bush administration once and would not do so again, the participant said.
The CEOs have urged Congress to extend the Bush-era tax cuts until a tax overhaul can be reached and prevent the spending cuts from taking place. The executives say the uncertainty over the fiscal cliff is hurting the nation's business climate and preventing hiring.
Obama will meet with several CEOs, including the heads of Aetna, Honeywell, Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble and Ford.
The participants include members of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a group founded by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles that has pushed for a long-term plan to fix the nation's debt and deficits.
Simpson, a former Wyoming senator, and Bowles, a former White House chief of staff, served as co-chairs of Obama's bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which proposed $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in additional revenues.
Among the CEOs attending the meeting are General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, who chairs Obama's jobs council, and American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault and Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, who are members of the council.