WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is about to find himself in the center of debate over how to avoid the fiscal cliff.
Mr. Casey, chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, will moderate a hearing on the issue next week.
Witnesses on tap include Philadelphian Mark M. Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, and Kevin A. Hassett, senior fellow and director of economic policy at American Enterprise Institute.
"Republicans and Democrats need to come together to address the challenge of the so-called 'fiscal cliff,' " Mr. Casey said. "We need to cut more spending, but we need to do so in a smart way that keeps our economy growing. This hearing will allow members of both sides of the aisle to hear from top economists on the best policies to ensure we strike a balanced approach in the best interest of our nation."
The aim of the visit is to draw attention to the president's plan to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans and to provide tax credits to small businesses that add jobs or increase wages.
The latter measure is at the heart of legislation Mr. Casey proposed.
In a statement Tuesday the senator said he was pleased to see the president get behind it during his Montgomery County visit.
"This is a commonsense approach to create jobs," Mr. Casey said. "It's a proven, effective strategy to create good-paying jobs and boost growth."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell blasted the president for mounting a campaign-style roadshow instead of staying in Washington to negotiate with legislative leaders.
"Rather than sitting down with lawmakers of both parties and working out an agreement, he's back out on the campaign trail, presumably with the same old talking points we're all familiar with," Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president is doing both.
"It is entirely appropriate, I would say, both for the president and for leaders in Congress to have this discussion not just among themselves but with the American people. And that's what the president is doing," he said.
"Everyone the president is meeting with has both ... useful ideas and a substantial stake in the outcome of these negotiations," Mr. Carney said.
"Fiscal cliff" is a term coined by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to describe the $600 billion worth of spending cuts and tax hikes scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1. Lawmakers intentionally put them in place last year during the debt ceiling debate because they wanted to force a deficit-reduction compromise by the end of the year.
Republicans want a solution based on spending cuts, not new revenue, although in recent days some have said they would consider reneging on a promise to oppose all tax increases. Still, they're more likely to agree to raise revenue by closing loopholes and capping deductions than adding new taxes.
Mr. Casey said it will take a balanced approach to avoid the fiscal cliff. He said Republicans seem to be starting to recognize that.
He said they've come a long way from a Republican primary debate earlier this year when every candidate including Mitt Romney indicated they would walk away from a budget deal that included $10 in cuts for every dollar in new revenue.
"I don't think we will see that again," he said.
Mr. Casey has been a strong proponent of a plan to raise taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year but has said he'd be willing to compromise on the details.
Some Republicans are taking small steps in that direction. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, for example, has indicated support for an additional 2 percent tax on millionaires.
Other ideas being floated include caps on itemized deductions, closing special-interest tax loopholes, cutting federal retirement programs, requiring higher Medicare contributions from the wealthiest beneficiaries and raising the Medicare eligibility age.
"There has been an enormous amount of brain power applied to the challenges we face, numerous proposals from a variety of corners," Mr. Carney told reporters Tuesday.
He said the president believes the keys to that are extending middle-class tax cuts and increasing taxes on the wealthy but that he is not wedded to his plan.
"He understands that compromise requires making touch choices, and he welcomes every credible ... idea that gets us from here to there," Mr. Carney said.
The goal, he said, is "an agreement on a broad, balanced and comprehensive plan to reduce our deficits and debt -- and put us on a sustainable path economically -- in a way that protects the middle class, protects seniors and other vulnerable Americans, and continues to invest in our economy so it can grow and create jobs."
Washington Bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: email@example.com or 1-703-996-9292. First Published November 28, 2012 5:00 AM