(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama says his top priority -- the "north star" of his second-term -- is to do "everything we can to grow the economy and create good, middle-class jobs." And that means taking more tax money from wealthy Americans, on top of the higher tax rates that Congress went along with a few months ago.
Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, President Obama said Republicans have a choice: "Do you want to see a bunch of first responders lose their jobs because you want to protect some special interest tax loophole?"
He was surrounded by emergency responders as he spoke.
Obama said Democrats have proposed a "balanced plan" to avoid the sequester -- the deep, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that will take effect on March 1 unless Congress agrees on a different way to reduce the deficit. Balance means higher taxes.
"I know that Republicans have proposed some ideas, too," Obama said. "I have to say, though -- so far, at least -- the ideas that Republicans have proposed ask nothing of the wealthiest Americans or the biggest corporations. So the burden is all on first responders, or seniors, or middle class families."
Obama said Republicans have expressed a preference for huge budget cuts to take effect rather than close a single tax loophole for the wealthiest Americans.
"Well, that's not balanced. That would be like Democrats saying we have to close our deficits without any spending cuts whatsoever -- it's all taxes. That's not the position Democrats have taken, it's certainly not the postion I've taken.
"So now Republicans in Congress face a simple choice: Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investments in education and health care and national security and all the jobs that depend on them, or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our economy at risk just to protect a few special interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations? That's the choice," Obama said.
"Do you want to see a bunch of first responders lose their jobs because you want to protect some special interest tax loophole?
"Are you willing to have teachers laid off, or kids not have access to head start, or deeper cuts in student loan programs, just because you want to protect special itnerest tax loopholes that the vast majority of Americans don't benefit from?"
Obama said he will not sign a plan that harms the middle class.
Obama got his tax increases, Republicans say
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), appearing two days ago on ABC's "This Week," said it was President Obama who came up with the sequester idea -- and it is House Republicans who have twice passed legislation replacing it with what Ryan called "smarter cuts."
"The Senate hasn't passed a bill to replace the sequester," Ryan told ABC on Sunday. "The President gave a speech showing that he'd like to replace it, but he hasn't put any details out there. So that is why I conclude, I believe it's going to take place. But take a step back. We are here because the President back in the last session of Congress refused to cut spending in anyplace, and therefore we wound up with the sequester."
Unless Congress acts soon, automatic spending cuts totaling $85 billion will happen between March 1 and the end of the fiscal year in September. Half of the cuts will come in defense and half in non-defense discretionary spending.
President Obama and his fellow Democrats say any alternative to the sequester must include more tax revenue, but Ryan and his fellow Republicans say President Obama got his tax increases last year, when Congress passed a bill raising tax rates on families making $450,000 or more (and individuals making $400,000-plus).
Ryan said closing tax loopholes, as Democrats now want to do, would only fuel more spending. He said Republicans advocate closing loopholes as part of overall tax reform, not to create more stimulus spending.
The Budget Control Act of 2011, signed into law by President Obama on August 2, 2011, required across-the-board spending cuts of $1.2 trillion over the next ten years if Congress could not agree on alternative ways to limit spending and reduce the nation's debt.
The sequester was scheduled to happen on Jan. 1, but the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 -- which raised tax rates for wealthy individuals -- moved the date to March 1, 2013, giving Congress more time to come up with a plan. The deep, automatic spending cuts were supposed to inspire such shock and awe in lawmakers, that they would never agree to let them happen. So far, it hasn't worked.