Obama Stands Firm On Raising Taxes For Wealthy

President Obama held his first full dress press conference since his reelection last week and since March of this year on Wednesday.

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(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody. Please have a seat. I hear you have some questions for me.

BLOCK: Questions for President Obama in his first news conference since his re-election. NPR's Mara Liasson was there and has this report.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: This was President Obama's first full-dress encounter with the White House press corps since March. With his last campaign behind him, the president said his goal was to simply be a better president than he was in his first term.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: I don't presume that because I won an election that everybody suddenly agrees with me on everything. I'm more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms. We are very cautious about that.

LIASSON: But first he has to replace several top Cabinet officials, including the secretary of state. One of his favorites for that post in U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice who's under fire from Republicans who say they don't trust her because of comments she made about the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Earlier today, Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham called for a Watergate-style investigation into the attacks. The president delivered a fiery defense of his administration and of Ambassador Rice, who he said is being used as an easy target.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.

LIASSON: Mr. Obama said he hasn't yet made a final decision, but if he thinks Rice is the best person for the job, he will nominate her. Mr. Obama was also asked about the growing scandal involving his former CIA director, David Petraeus, and his commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: I am withholding judgment with respect to how the entire process surrounding General Petraeus came up. You know, we don't have all the information yet.

LIASSON: The president spent much of his time talking about his most urgent piece of business: avoiding the fiscal cliff, the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that will occur at the end of the year if no action is taken. The president made it clear he planned to blame any cliff-diving on the Republicans.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: If despite the election, if despite the dangers of going over the fiscal cliff and what that means for our economy, that there's too much stubbornness in Congress that we can't even agree on giving middle-class families a tax cut, then middle-class families are all going to end up having a big tax hike.

LIASSON: That's not necessary, the president said, repeating the position he's held for more than a year, which is to keep the Bush tax cuts for the middle class but let the cuts for people making over $250,000 a year expire. Republicans are opposed to raising tax rates on anyone, but say they're willing to find more tax revenue by closing loopholes. That won't satisfy the president, who said today there aren't enough loopholes to pay for $1 trillion worth of top-end tax cuts. Mr. Obama and Congress need to get over this first hurdle, resolving the fate of the expiring Bush tax cuts, before they can go on to the bigger tax reform and entitlement reform efforts the president says he wants to tackle next year.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: So there is a package to be shaped, and I'm confident that parties - folks of goodwill in both parties can make that happen.

LIASSON: The president has laid out his opening bid: $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue. That's about double the number he and Speaker John Boehner settled on in their negotiations last year, negotiations that ultimately failed to produce a deal. Mr. Obama meets with leaders of Congress on Friday to see if this year he can do any better. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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