Obama said tax rates were their lowest since 1958. Yet he said Republicans not only won't consider asking higher earners like him to pay more, but would offer further tax relief while at the same time cutting funding for education, transportation and clean energy.
"That doesn't, from my perspective, make sense if we're concerned about how do we create jobs for the future," he said at the town hall meeting, which aired on CBS News on Thursday morning.
House Speaker John A. Boehner said in a New York speech this week that tax increases were off the table and called for trillions in spending cuts. Obama himself said he supports $2 trillion in cuts, including defense spending. But to reach his goal of cutting the deficit by $4 trillion in the next decade, more revenue is needed.
Asked how likely it was that Republicans would agree to new taxes, Obama referred to his plan for a trigger mechanism.
"I think what we're going to end up having to do probably is to set some targets, and say those targets have to be hit [and] if not, automatically some cuts and tax increases start taking place," he said. "That will give incentive for us to negotiate — and figure something out."
During the forum, Obama fielded questions from the audience about the sluggish job market, gas prices and healthcare. He defended the role of public employees at a time when all levels of government face pressure to cut their workforce.
He also called on banks and business leaders to step up to the plate to help consumers years after the government provided needed assistance.
"When I talk to CEOs, the issue here is not uncertainty. The issue is they've got to start placing their bets on America," he said. "American taxpayers contributed to [the] process of stabilizing the economy. Companies have benefited from that, and they're making a lot of money. And now's the time for them to start betting on American workers and American products."
Obama is meeting Thursday with Republican senators, following a second round of talks between Vice President Joe Biden and a bipartisan working group of lawmakers. The government faces an Aug, 2 deadline to vote on raising the limit on how much it can borrow.
But the president said this was a fight that would wage on far longer.
"This is going to be a values question for the American people — over the next several years. I know my answer. And I'm going to be interested in having a vigorous debate with the Republicans about this issue," he said.