Obama, labor parley on tax hikes for rich

Nov. 13, 2012 at 4:24 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Labor and progressive leaders met with U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday to discuss his push for higher taxes on upper-income earners.

The White House session started at 11:51 a.m. EST and was over by 12:50 p.m., an administration official said.

Jim Messina, a former Obama deputy chief of staff for operations who headed up the president's re-election campaign, was asked what's next when spotted by reporters as he left the White House after the meeting.

"I am going to go to Italy and figure out how to become an expert in red wine for a couple weeks," he replied.

Asked if he had seen Obama, Messina said only, "Take care, guys."

AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser told The Wall Street Journal ahead of the meeting union leaders aren't demanding anything that would jeopardize lawmakers' base.

"We're not asking anyone to do anything that is politically courageous. It's not politically courageous to implement the broad mandate that the president and Democrats received to raise taxes on the top 2 percent," Hauser said.

"Clearly there was a mandate from this election. The American people are with the president on taxing the wealthiest Americans," Service Employees International Union government affairs Director Peter Colavito told CNN.

"Our people expect leaders in both parties to honor that mandate and ask everyone to pay their fair share of taxes."

The meeting was part of a White House plan to publicly push to solidify support for tax hikes on the wealthy along with spending cuts to cut the deficit, administration officials said.

Ending the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for wealthy people would raise about $440 billion in new revenue over 10 years, the White House estimates.

Obama is to meet with business leaders Wednesday in the hope of winning their backing for his proposal to let tax rates rise to 39.6 percent from 35 percent on taxable incomes of more than $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples, officials said.

The White House had described the agenda of Tuesday's meeting as a discussion of "actions we need to take to keep our economy growing and find a balanced approach to reduce our deficit."

Other than Vice President Joe Biden, the White House didn't say who would attend, but AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Lee Saunders and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel had agreed to show up, CNN and other news organizations reported.

The White House also didn't say who would attend Wednesday's meeting, but about a dozen business leaders agreeing to participate include American Express Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Chenault, Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Alan Mulally, General Electric Co. Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt, IBM Corp. Chairwoman and CEO Ginni Rometty, and Walmart Stores Inc. President and CEO Mike Duke, Politico reported.

Obama also plans to travel outside Washington in the hope of broadening national support for the idea, which White House officials say they believe won voter backing in last week's election, The Wall Street Journal said.

Obama is to meet with congressional leaders Friday in a session expected to be followed by negotiations between White House and congressional aides, the Journal said.

The White House wants roughly $1.5 trillion in new taxes over 10 years, largely targeting the wealthy, coupled with spending cuts Obama said in September would reduce the long-term deficit $3 trillion beyond the $1 trillion agreed to as part of a deal to raise the U.S. debt ceiling.

Congress was to return to Washington Tuesday with a looming year-end "fiscal cliff" -- a combination of big tax increases and spending cuts in the hundreds of billions of dollars scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1.

Senior lawmakers said late last week they were moving quickly to take advantage of the accommodating post-election political atmosphere.

A handful of Republicans have said they're open to tax increases as part of a sweeping deficit-reduction deal while some Democrats have said they're open to substantive Medicare and Medicaid changes. But both parties also have blocs resisting such compromises.

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