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Obama WH comments on 'fiscal cliff'

Is the Obama White House willing to follow Senate Democrats off the so-called "fiscal cliff"?

Not exactly.

The White House today weighed in with a slightly different message: Congress should prevent the fiscal cliff -- the prospect of all the Bush-era tax cuts expiring, as well as automatic spending cuts taking effect -- from ever happening.

During a gaggle aboard Air Force One, Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked if the president supports Democrats who threatening to let all the Bush tax cuts expire -- for both the wealthy and middle class -- if they don't get a "good deal" from Republicans.

“The president believes firmly that there is a way for us to deal with our deficit challenges," Earnest said. He added that this potential way forward could also avoid the $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts (including defense spending) that will occur after the end of this year.

Earnest’s comments stopped short of endorsing what Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said Democrats were willing to do if Republicans refused to raise taxes on the wealthy. Speaking at the Brookings Institution on Monday, Murray said, “If we can’t get a good deal, a balanced deal that calls on the wealthy to pay their fair share then I will absolutely continue this debate into 2013,” meaning after the economy would presumably plunge off the cliff. 

Earnest also echoed a message that President Obama has touted for the past several days -- that the Congress should extend the Bush-era tax cuts for folks making less than $250,000.

“The president does not believe that it's just middle-class families that should have to sacrifice to deal with our deficit challenges. We're all in this together, and that includes asking those wealthiest 2% of Americans, millionaires and billionaires, essentially, to do their fair share.to do their fair share.”  

Republicans have fired back. On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Congressional Democrats of waging an “ideological crusade.”

McConnell said, “Let me boil it down. Faced with the slowest economic recovery in modern times, chronic joblessness, and the lowest percentage of able-bodied Americans actually participating in the workforce in decades, Democrats’ one-point plan to revive the economy is this: you earn, we take. That’s apparently the only thing they’ve got. “

According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 44% of people believe increasing taxes on those making more than $250,000 would help the economy, versus just 22% who believe it will hurt it.