Obama demands immediate action on taxes

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama Friday called for an immediate tax-cut extension for people earning less than $250,000 and insisted top earners must pay more, claiming a mandate from voters as he invited congressional leaders to a White House meeting on averting the so-called fiscal cliff.

Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, in separate remarks Friday, left open the possibility of agreement on preserving current tax rates while limiting tax breaks for top earners to raise revenue. Such an approach, which neither has explicitly proposed, would let Obama claim the higher tax payments he seeks from the wealthy and let Boehner avoid the higher rates he calls unacceptable.

"The American people voted for action," Obama said at the White House in his first public remarks on the budget and deficit since winning re-election Nov. 6. He said any solution must include spending cuts and raising revenue, including more taxes from the wealthiest.

If Congress doesn't act by the end of the year, $607 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases are scheduled to take effect starting in January. That was part of deal last year to raise the federal debt ceiling.

Obama called for immediate action by lawmakers to prevent rates from rising for middle-income taxpayers. "We shouldn't need long negotiations or drama," Obama said.

Obama extended the invitation for negotiations next week to Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

At a news conference earlier Friday, Boehner called for a "simpler, cleaner, fairer tax code." He outlined the Republican approach to the fiscal cliff: avoid tax rate increases and spending cuts while beginning a process to overhaul entitlement spending and the tax code.

"This is an opportunity for the president to lead," said Boehner, an Ohio Republican. Obama wants to let George W. Bush-era tax cuts lapse on income of individuals above $200,000 and of married couples above $250,000. That would push the top tax rate to 39.6 percent from 35 percent.

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