REDFORD, Mich. — President Obama hit the campaign trail again on Monday — more than a month after the election — firing up a crowd of blue-collar automotive workers with calls to raise taxes on the wealthy and eagerly wading into a local political dispute over the powers of labor unions.
The visit to Michigan was the latest stop in a public-relations effort by the White House aimed at harnessing Obama’s popularity across the country to generate momentum behind his plan to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” Shortly before Obama landed in Detroit, his still-active reelection campaign sent out a plea urging millions of supporters to pressure House Republicans to back the president’s approach.
In a flex of political muscle, Republicans in Michigan in a single day reached the brink of a goal that for years has seemed an all-but-impossible dream: making the labor bastion of Michigan a right-to-work state.
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Obama’s appearance at Daimler’s Detroit Diesel plant, which builds truck engines, came as negotiations accelerated in Washington over the fiscal cliff: more than $500 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to hit in January. One day after meeting privately with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) at the White House — their first one-on-one meeting since the election — Obama telephoned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). It was his second conversation with the Senate leader in four days.
Obama met Friday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). People close to the talks said it appeared that Obama was making progress in talks with Boehner toward a far-reaching deficit-reduction plan that would generate fresh tax revenue and reduce the soaring cost of federal health programs.
Neither the White House nor aides to Boehner would comment on the developments, often a sign that things are advancing behind the scenes. In public, however, senior aides played out the same dispute over taxes that has blocked a deal since Obama won reelection. Boehner has offered to generate as much as $800 billion in fresh revenue over the next decade by limiting deductions for the wealthy, but he and other Republicans have drawn a hard line against raising the top 35 percent tax rate.
“The Republican offer made last week remains the Republican offer, and we continue to wait for the president to identify the spending cuts he’s willing to make as part of the ‘balanced’ approach he promised the American people,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement.
“There is no deal without acknowledgment and acceptance of the fact that rates are going up on top earners,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters en route to Detroit.
But by Monday evening Obama’s and Boehner’s respective allies on Capitol Hill were growing anxious about the ongoing talks. Democrats were concerned that the White House may be giving in to GOP demands to apply a less generous measure of inflation to Social Security benefits and raise the eligibility age for Medicare, while Republicans were fearful of a deal yielding more than $1 trillion in new revenue. Top GOP aides were also annoyed by what they said was a move by the White House to adjust the revenue target downward from $1.6 trillion to $1.2 trillion over the next decade — and then jacking it back up again Monday to $1.4 trillion.