By Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, accused by Republican House Speaker John Boehner of pushing the country toward the "fiscal cliff," said on Saturday he was ready to work with congressional Republicans on a comprehensive plan to cut budget deficits as long it included higher taxes on the wealthy.
Obama is battling Republican lawmakers over how to avoid the combination of sharp tax hikes and spending cuts set to kick in early next year that could plunge the economy back into recession.
In his weekly radio address, the president renewed his call for Republicans to extend middle-class tax cuts while letting tax rates go up for the wealthy. He also said he would be willing to find ways to bring down healthcare costs and make additional cuts to government social safety-net programs.
"We can and should do more than just extend middle-class tax cuts," he said. "I stand ready to work with Republicans on a plan that spurs economic growth, creates jobs and reduces our deficit - a plan that gives both sides some of what they want."
Republicans have balked at tax rate increases, which they say would hurt small businesses and brake economic growth.
With three weeks left to avert the fiscal crunch, Boehner said on Friday the administration had adopted a "my way or the highway" approach and was engaging in reckless talk about going over the "fiscal cliff.
But Obama said his re-election last month and Democratic gains in both houses of Congress showed decisive support for his approach.
"After all, this was a central question in the election," he said. "A clear majority of Americans - Democrats, Republicans and Independents - agreed with a balanced approach that asks something from everyone, but a little more from those who can
Boehner and the House leadership submitted their terms for a deal to the White House on Monday, after Obama offered his opening proposal last week.
The plans from both sides would cut deficits by more than $4 trillion over the next 10 years but differ on how to get there. Republicans want more drastic spending cuts in "entitlement programs" like the Medicare healthcare program for the elderly, while Obama wants to raise more revenue with tax increases and to boost some spending to spur the sluggish economy. (Editing by Peter Cooney)