Surrounding himself by supporters he presented as typical middle-class taxpayers, Mr. Obama said he hoped to resolve the tax and spending issues now confronting Washington by an end-of-the-year deadline. But he said lawmakers should not wait for such an agreement to pass legislation preserving current tax rates for 98 percent of Americans.
“My hope is to get this done before Christmas,” he said of an agreement to avert deep spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take place automatically with the new year. “But the place where we already have in theory at least complete agreement right now is on middle-class taxes.”
He said such an approach “would give us more time next year to work together on a comprehensive plan to bring down our deficits” and “streamline our tax system.”
The administration planned to send a high-level delegation to Capitol Hill to talk through the situation. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and Rob Nabors, the White House legislative affairs director, will visit, separately, the top leaders of both parties in both houses, an administration official said.
Republicans in Congress have resisted letting the Bush tax cuts expire for anyone, including the wealthy. But Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma lawmaker and a highly regarded party political strategist, broke with his party leadership on Tuesday by calling for a quick deal with Mr. Obama on extending the tax cuts just for the middle class.
Mr. Obama seemed to refer to that during his event in the office building adjacent to the White House. “I’m glad to see if you’ve been reading the papers lately that more and more Republicans in Congress seem to be agreeing with this idea that we should have a balanced approach,” he said.
But a prominent figure in the fiscal discussions expressed pessimism that the two sides would be able to reach an agreement to avert what is being called a fiscal cliff.
“I believe the probability is that we are going over the cliff, and I think that we will be horrible,” Erskine B. Bowles, a former White House chief of staff who served as co-chairman of Mr. Obama’s deficit reduction commission, told reporters at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “It will be devastating to the economy.”
The president’s appearance with taxpayers was part of a week of campaign-style events staged by the White House to rally public support for its side in the fiscal fight. He planned to meet with 14 chief executives of corporations at the White House later in the day and travel to the Philadelphia suburbs to tour a factory on Friday.
Republicans have said Mr. Obama seems more interested in perpetuating his campaign than in sitting down to hash out the difficult issues. They also note that they have expressed a willingness to raise tax revenue by closing loopholes and limiting deductions, but they have complained that Mr. Obama has not focused as much on the spending side of the equation, particularly entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
“We have not seen any good-faith effort on the part of this administration to talk about the real problem that we’re trying to fix,” Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican majority leader, told reporters on Wednesday. “This has to be a part of this agreement, or else we just continue to dig the hole deeper, asking folks to allow us to kick the can down the road further. And that we don’t want to do.”
Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio echoed that argument but expressed hope that he could reach an agreement with Mr. Obama. “It’s time for the president and Democrats to get serious about the spending problem that our country has,” he said at a news conference. “But I’m optimistic that we can continue to work together to avert this crisis, and sooner rather than later.”
But some Republicans were beginning to make the argument that extending the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans would still be a victory for their party and a validation of the former president.
Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the Democratic chairwoman of the Budget Committee, said the talk was encouraging. “This has never been about partisanship or political point-scoring,” she said. “It’s been about protecting the middle class from paying more in taxes and calling on the wealthy to pay their fair share.”