ARLINGTON, Va., Dec 7 (Reuters) - The White House will
respond to "any serious offer" from congressional Republicans to
prevent the U.S. "fiscal cliff" and "theoretically" could
negotiate how much tax rates must rise for top earners, Vice
President Joe Biden said on Friday.
Biden, who was meeting with people at a diner who described
how an increase in middle-class tax rates would affect them,
laid out two criteria for a deal to avoid looming spending cuts
and across-the-board tax hikes: an increase in tax rates for the
wealthiest Americans and an end to political gamesmanship over
raising the debt ceiling.
"The president's ready to respond to any serious offer put
on the table," Biden told reporters when asked to respond to
Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John
Boehner's comment that President Barack Obama was pushing the
country toward the fiscal cliff.
"That is not the president's position," Biden said. "We have
laid out where we are. There has been in a sense a referendum"
on the need for higher tax rates for the wealthiest Americans
and for an end to stalemates over the debt ceiling, he said.
The White House wants tax rates for the top 2 percent of
U.S. earners to go up as part of a fiscal cliff deal. Obama has
said Republican leaders must accept that reality in order to
reach an agreement, but Biden indicated some flexibility on how
high tax rates for the wealthy would have to rise.
"The top brackets have to go up," he said. "Theoretically,
we can negotiate how far up, but we think it should go - the top
rate should go to 39.6 percent."
He said the administration was ready to negotiate reform to
entitlement programs and look at more spending cuts, but
believed that revenue in a final package had to be in the range
of $1.7 trillion over 10 years.
Biden pressed the administration's case that Congress should
agree now to extend tax cuts for middle-class Americans and
separate that from the debate over rates for the wealthiest.
"It would take 15 minutes from the time the decision was
made by the speaker of the House to pass and make permanent the
middle-class tax cut, the president would probably have me
sprint up to the Hill to bring the bill down for him to sign,"
"It is not complicated, and it doesn't even require our
Republican friends to say, 'we agree that we should raise taxes
on the top 2 percent.'"
He forecast that if both sides "act like adults" and can
compromise, economic growth will strengthen. The U.S. economy,
which added 146,000 jobs in November, had turned a corner and
was moving in the right direction, Biden said.