Obama on "fiscal cliff": I'm happy to be flexible

President Barack Obama speaks at the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) symposium being held at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Updated 2:55 p.m. ET

In his first television interview since his re-election, President Obama pushed his proposal to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" but also signaled that he is open to some movement on some key components of his proposal, including raising taxes on the wealthy.

Although Mr. Obama told Bloomberg TV a deal is not possible without an increase to the tax rate for those making over $250,000, he would not answer specifically when asked if the rate on the wealthy must increase from the current 35 percent to the pre-Bush rate of 39.6 percent, signaling there may be wiggle room on how much of a hike he'll demand.

"I'm prepared to make some tough decisions," Mr. Obama said. However, he reaffirmed that no matter what, the tax rate on the wealthy must go up. "We're not going to be able to get a deal without it."

When asked for clarification, White House spokesperson Jay Carney said "rates have to go up," but spoke in a similar line as his boss by refusing to draw a line in the sand over the percentage. He said the Republicans have yet to offer a proposal that would raise tax rates on the wealthy.

In response to the president's latest pronouncement, House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement that he is "willing to make concessions, but the President must be willing to lead." He also said he is "eager" to continue talks with the president but called on him to "respond with a proposal that...can pass both chambers of Congress."

Boehner and House GOP leaders put forward their first offer Monday. Although it offers no specifics, it provides an outline of a deal that would reduce the deficit by $2.2 trillion. As for revenue, the Republicans' proposal says it would increase revenue by $800 billion by closing tax loopholes and limiting deductions.

The president rejected Boehner's revenue proposal outright, saying enough revenue cannot be garnered through deductions and loopholes only. "It doesn't work," he said.

Mr. Obama said he is open to broader tax reform but that it cannot be done in "two weeks." He said a "down payment" should be passed now that raises rates for the wealthy but extends rates for the rest of wage earners, and then Congress work on broader tax reform when it returns next year.

With broad tax reform next year, he said "at that point," rates might be able to go down as long as adequate revenue is raised."I'm happy to work with them."

As for another sticking point in the negotiations, entitlement programs, the president also indicated an openness to make concessions to programs like Medicare. Based on the negotiators opening arguments, both sides are far apart. Boehner's proposal calls for $900 billion in mandatory spending cuts, much of it coming from Medicare, compared to $600 billion the president proposed.

"I'm happy to be flexible," Mr. Obama said, adding that he says he's not going to get "100 percent" of what he wants. "I am willing to look at anything that strengthens" Medicare, he said. When asked whether he would support raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67, the president demurred but didn't outright reject the idea.

The president also seemed to indicate he is willing to cut slightly more from discretionary spending, which includes education, disaster relief, national parks and other government programs.

"There's probably more cuts that we can squeeze out," he said, but he continued to point to the $1 trillion worth of cuts Congress passed last year without any increases in revenue, and he said he's not going to cut programs that hurt the middle class, seniors and college students.

In what seems like an effort to repair his strained relationship with some in the business community, Mr. Obama also said he'd like to give business leaders a more prominent role in his administration, but he blamed the Senate confirmation process that causes private-sector executives to "shy away" from government service.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.