Top Republican urges Obama to take lead on fiscal deal

The top Republican in Congress said Friday the onus on averting a year-end fiscal crisis lies with President Barack Obama, as he pressed the newly re-elected US leader to work out a deal.

"This is an opportunity for the president to lead," Speaker of the House John Boehner told reporters 90 minutes before the Democratic president was to make a statement on looming US economic challenges.

"This is his moment to engage the Congress and work towards a solution that can pass both chambers," he said. "I think it's important for us to come to an agreement with the president. But this is his opportunity to lead."

Boehner said he hoped to quickly start talks on a deal to avert what has been described as a "fiscal cliff" -- a convergence of tax hikes and massive spending cuts, including slashes to the military, which some experts predict would sink the country back into recession.

"I'm proposing we avert the fiscal cliff together in a manner that ensures that 2013 is finally the year that our government comes to grips with the major problems facing us," Boehner said.

But he reiterated his opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy as a way to slice into America's growing debt, saying "raising tax rates will slow down our ability to create the jobs that everyone says they want."

Boehner pointed to "special interest loopholes in the tax code, both corporate and personal," as well as deductions that could be eliminated as a way to raise revenue while not deterring investment.

Several economists have said that closing loopholes and ending deductions, even popular deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations, would not be enough to reduce the debt, and that studies suggested a combination of tax increases and spending cuts will be needed.

Boehner on Friday merely mentioned his opposition to letting the Bush-era tax breaks expire. A day earlier, in an interview with ABC News, he said Republicans believed tax hikes were "unacceptable."

"I don't want to box myself in. I don't want to box anybody else in," Boehner said on Friday at the US Capitol, four days before the lame duck congressional session begins next Tuesday.

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