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Hill leaders voice confidence in debt deal

Associated Press Modified: November 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm •  Published: November 16, 2012
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Vice President Joe Biden, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and top White House advisers also took part in the Roosevelt Room meeting.

Said Obama: "My hope is that this is going to be the beginning of a fruitful process."

In news conferences and other public statements, Obama and the congressional leaders have been setting negotiating markers for a debt deal. The session at the White House was their first meeting together since the election, one in which Obama says the American people voted for his way to cut the debt.

Obama has insisted that any deal involve higher taxes on the top 2 percent of income earners. Republicans leaders are vowing to resist rate hikes as job-killers, though they've signaled they're open to added revenue through curbs on deductions and credits.

On Friday afternoon, Obama will continue his efforts to build a coalition of support for his position when he and Biden meet with leaders of civil rights and other organizations. Obama has already met with leaders of labor and liberal organizations as well as corporate CEOs who have backed his call for greater tax revenue.

At issue is a one-two punch of expiring Bush-era tax reductions and across-the-board spending cuts set to hit in January as self-imposed punishment for the failure of a gridlocked Congress to reach a deficit-cutting deal last year.

The White House says Obama's starting point for negotiations is his February budget plan, which combined $1.6 trillion in new revenues over the coming decade — chiefly from upper-income earners — with modest cuts to benefits programs. Obama's plan promises $4.4 trillion in deficit cuts over 10 years, but more than half of that would come by banking already accomplished cuts and questionable savings from winding down military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the run-up to the meeting, Obama has been firm that taxes are going up on upper-bracket earners, though Boehner and McConnell are adamant that his campaign promise of raising the top income tax rate on family income exceeding $250,000 a year is a non-starter.

The bargaining landscape has shifted markedly in Obama's favor since his failed talks with Boehner, R-Ohio, in the summer of 2011 on a "grand bargain" on the budget.

Then, Obama squared off against a tea party-driven House on the need to extend the government's ability to borrow to avoid a market-crunching first-ever default on its debt obligations. Now newly re-elected, Obama is putting Republicans on notice that he's willing to mount a national campaign blaming them for holding up renewed tax cuts for most with an ultimatum against renewing them for top income earners.

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AP writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.