I realize that the last thing you want to hear on New Year’s Eve is another speech from me. But I do need to talk about the progress that’s being made in Congress today.
For the last few days, leaders in both parties have been working toward an agreement that will prevent a middle-class tax hike from hitting 98 percent of all Americans starting tomorrow. That has been my top priority, because the last thing folks like (those) up here on this stage can afford right now is to pay an extra $2,000 in taxes next year. Middle-class families can’t afford it; businesses can’t afford it; our economy can’t afford it.
Now today, it appears that an agreement to prevent this New Year’s tax hike is within sight. But it’s not done. There are still issues left to resolve, but we’re hopeful Congress can get it done. But it’s not done.
…The potential agreement that’s being talked about would not only make sure that taxes don’t go up on middle-class families — it also would extend tax credits for families with children; it would extend our tuition tax credit that’s helped millions of families pay for college; it would extend tax credits for clean energy companies that are creating jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil; it would extend unemployment insurance for two million Americans who are out there, still actively looking for a job.
I have to say that ever since I took office, throughout the campaign, and over the last couple of months, my preference would have been to solve all these problems in the context of larger agreement, a bigger deal, a ‘grand bargain’ — whatever you wanna call it — that solves our deficit problems in a balanced and responsible way, that doesn’t just deal with the taxes, but deals with the spending so we can put all this behind us and focus on growing our economy.
But with this Congress, that was obviously a little too much to hope for at this time. (Laughter from audience.) And maybe we can do it in stages. …Last year, we started reducing the deficit through $1 trillion in spending cuts; those have already taken place. The agreement being worked on right now would further reduce the deficit by asking the wealthiest two percent of Americans to pay higher taxes for the first time in two decades, (and) that would add additional hundreds of billions of dollars to deficit reduction. So that’s progress — but we’re gonna need to do more.
Keep in mind that just last month, Republicans in Congress said they would never agree to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Obviously, the agreement that’s being currently discussed would raise those rates, and raise them permanently. But keep in mind, we’re gonna still have more work to do. We still have deficits that have to be dealt with; we’re still gonna have to think about how we put our economy on a long term trajectory of growth. How we continue to make investments in things like education, things like infrastructure, that help our economy grow.
…I’m willing to reduce our government’s Medicare bills by finding new ways to reduce the cost of healthcare in this country. …There’s still more work to be done in the tax code to make it fair even as we’re also looking at how we could strengthen something like Medicare. Now if Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone — and you hear that sometimes coming from them, that after today, we’re just gonna try to shove only spending cuts at us that will hurt seniors, or hurt students, or hurt middle class families without asking equivalent sacrifices from millionaires or companies with a lot of lobbyists — then they’ve got another think coming.
That’s not that’s gonna work. We’re gonna do this in a balanced and responsible way, and if we’re serious about deficit reduction and debt reduction, then it’s gonna have to be a matter of shared sacrifice. At least as long as I’m President.