The White House confirmed Thursday that President Obama is prepared to veto legislation that would skirt the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- a battery of tax hikes and spending cuts -- unless Republicans consent to raise taxes on top earners.
The move drew renewed accusations from rival Mitt Romney that the president has chosen to "simply ignore" Republicans on the Hill instead of dealing with the problem. According to one account, Obama hasn't so much as spoken with House Speaker John Boehner since July.
The fresh reports have suddenly woven the "fiscal cliff" emergency back into the campaign debate in the closing weeks of the race. Congress is preparing to take up the issue in the post-election, lame-duck session, but with lawmakers on recess and the president on the campaign trail little is expected to be accomplished until then.
Romney's campaign on Thursday blamed the president for the inaction.
"His approach would let our economy sink into recession for the sake of pursuing job-killing tax increases. Rather than work in a bipartisan manner as the 'fiscal cliff' approaches, President Obama prefers to issue veto threats and simply ignore the other party. We can't afford four more years of this failed leadership," Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement. "When Mitt Romney is president, he [will] work with members of both parties to cut spending, restore our AAA credit rating and get our economy growing again."
The double-blow of tax hikes and spending cuts is scheduled to hit starting in January. It includes the expiration of the Bush-era tax rates, along with defense and other cuts set into place by lawmakers' failure to reach a deficit-reduction deal in the wake of the 2011 fight over raising the debt ceiling.
The White House on Thursday confirmed an earlier Washington Post story that Obama is prepared to turn down any bill that would avoid the "cliff" without raising tax rates on top earners. Press Secretary Jay Carney described that threat as nothing new.
"The president has long made clear that he will veto an extension of tax cuts for the top 2 percent of wealthiest Americans," Carney said. "That has been his position, as you know, for a very long time. If there is concern about what we can do right now to address the so-called fiscal cliff, the House ought to follow the Senate and pass the extension of tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people."
Carney went on to put the onus on Congress to bridge the differences in Washington, particularly when asked about a Politico report that Boehner has not spoken with Obama in four months.
"The president has put forward very clear plans on how to address our fiscal challenges," Carney said. "That approach enjoys a broad consensus in Washington and the country. The one obstacle is the adamant refusal of Republicans in the House to accept the principle that there should be balance."
Asked Thursday whether Obama would veto legislation that excludes those higher taxes win or lose, Carney did not say -- though he voiced confidence in the president's chances: "First of all, he's not going to lose the election."
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have voiced frustration, though, with the lack of progress on avoiding the fiscal emergency that by some accounts could plunge the country back into recession.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center on Thursday, said "this shouldn't be this hard."
"It's almost un-American to think that we couldn't get this done," he said, adding that he remains "very optimistic."
The heads of the nation's largest banks and financial firms on Thursday also renewed their call for Congress and the president to strike a deal.
"At a time when economic growth is less than 2 percent, and with nearly 25 million Americans either out of work or underemployed, the still-fragile U.S. economy cannot sustain -- and the American people do not deserve -- the impact of more gridlock in Washington," the members of the Financial Services Forum wrote. "We urge (policymakers) to negotiate a bipartisan agreement as quickly as possible to prevent us from going over the fiscal cliff so that we can avoid the damage to the economy and the markets that inaction will cause."