Obama on Petraeus: No evidence of security breach in scandal
Failure to act would lead to spending cuts and higher taxes on all Americans, with middle-income families paying an average of about $2,000 more next year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
Obama said he was "open to new ideas" but would not allow current tax rates to continue for the top 2 percent of wage earners, drawing a line for Republicans who say they will not tolerate any tax rate increases.
Asked if the tax rates for the rich had to return to Clinton-era levels, Obama indicated he was open to negotiations.
On another topic, Obama said it was his "expectation" that a comprehensive immigration reform bill would be introduced "very soon after my inauguration."
His support among Hispanics was one of his keys to victory over Republican rival Mitt Romney, who staked out conservative positions on immigration changes during the GOP primaries.
Obama failed to make progress on comprehensive immigration changes during his first term but said he planned to "seize the moment" after his inauguration.
The White House is already engaged in conversations with Capitol Hill. Obama said the legislation should make permanent the administrative changes he made earlier this year that allow some young illegal immigrants to remain in the country legally.
He said that the overall bill should include a "pathway to legal status" for the millions of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally but and haven't committed crimes unrelated to immigration.
Before tackling immigration, Obama will have to face the departure of several key Cabinet secretaries and White House staffers.
Among those expected to leave are Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry are the leading candidates to replace Clinton. Rice is a favorite of the president, but she has faced intense criticism for her role in the initial administration response to the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, during an attack .
"When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me," Obama said. "And should I choose, if I think that she would be the best person to serve America, in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her. That's not a determination that I've made yet."
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