WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Barack Obama on Thursday said the only thing keeping Republicans together was a desire to shield the rich from higher taxes, in a new jab over an imminent budget confrontation.
Mr Obama is mounting a full bore campaign push to heap blame on Republicans over a multi-billion dollar package of automatic spending cuts due to hammer the United States (US) economy on March 1.
The president wants to replace the cuts with a balanced set of spending cuts and revenue hikes obtained by closing tax loopholes, but Republicans in Congress are resisting the idea of higher taxes.
"My sense is that their basic view is that nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations," Mr Obama said, adding that Republicans prefer spending cuts even though they could slow economic growth.
"That's the thing that binds their party together at this point," the president told the liberal Al Sharpton radio show.
"I think Republicans right now have been so dug in on this notion of never raising taxes that it becomes difficult for them to see an obvious answer right in front of them."
Republicans, who lost a previous showdown with Mr Obama over raising tax rates for the rich, say the debate over hiking taxes is closed.
They say they are willing to close loopholes, but only in the context of a sweeping reform of the tax code, and maintain that Mr Obama wants to use proceeds from any immediate revenue rises to hike government spending.
As time runs out before the so-called "sequester" cuts hit, Mr Obama called Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday, though the White House gave no details of the talks.
Cuts due on March 1 would slash defense spending by US$55 billion (S$68.1 billion) and non-defence discretionary spending by $27 billion this year.
The Bipartisan Policy Center has said that a million jobs could be lost by the end of next year because of a slowdown brought on by the cuts.