President Barack Obama sketched out a potential year-end deal pairing tax increases and spending cuts to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, while insisting Republicans must accept higher tax rates for top earners as a condition for negotiations.
‘‘We have the potential of getting a deal done,’’ Obama said at the White House on Tuesday on Bloomberg Television in his first interview since winning re-election. ‘‘We’re going to have to see the rates on the top 2 percent go up, and we’re not going to be able to get a deal without it.’’
Obama’s comments underscored both the possibilities and the hurdles for breaking the stalemate in talks to avoid more than $600 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts that will begin to take effect if the president and Congress fail to reach a deal on reducing the deficit before year’s end.
The president said he would be flexible, yet named a price Republicans have so far been unwilling to pay — tax-rate increases — as the only path to reaching a deal.
‘‘It’s not me being stubborn; it’s not me being partisan,’’ Obama said. ‘‘It’s just a matter of math.’’
In greater detail than he has since winning a second term last month, Obama outlined his vision for a two-stage process wherein both he and congressional Republicans would get immediate ‘‘down payments’’ on their top priorities. He said that would be followed by more sweeping changes in 2013.
Obama is insisting that any deal must raise income tax rates on individuals earning $200,000 or more a year and married couples earning $250,000 and more annually, while Republicans are demanding entitlement benefit cuts.
Obama didn’t flatly rule out entitlement cuts, including changing the annual cost-of-living adjustment for Medicare, the government health program for the elderly and disabled.
“I am willing to look at anything that strengthens our system,” Obama said. Still, when asked whether he would be open to benefit cuts, the president said: ‘‘Well, no, that’s not what I’m saying.”
On taxes, Obama said in a 2013 tax overhaul, “it’s possible that we may be able to lower rates by broadening the base.”
Obama spoke the day after House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, sent a letter to the White House laying out a proposal to avert the fiscal cliff that included $2.2 trillion in spending cuts and new tax revenue, without raising rates.
‘‘Unfortunately,’’ Obama said, Boehner’s proposal ‘‘right now is still out of balance.’’
Reacting to the president’s latest comments, Boehner said Obama has an obligation to present a counterproposal that can be passed by Congress — a test he said Obama’s current plan fails — and that Republicans are eager to discuss such an offer with him.
‘‘If the president really wants to avoid sending the economy over the fiscal cliff,’’ Boehner said in a statement, ‘‘he has done nothing to demonstrate it.’’
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky lamented the lack of progress.
‘‘We’ve wasted an enormous amount of time sparring back and forth in public,’’ he said.‘‘I had hoped we would be accomplishing more in the real talks that are going on privately.’’
There are about four weeks left to break the logjam. The Congressional Budget Office has warned that failing to do so would pitch the U.S. economy into a recession.