WASHINGTON - The chief Democratic tax-writer in the US Senate said on Tuesday that to steer clear of the fiscal cliff, the top rates paid by the richest Americans must rise in any deal between Congress and the White House, but he suggested there is some flexibility in ways to strike a deal.

President Barack Obama has pledged to veto any bill that keeps the Bush-era tax cuts for American households earning more than $250,000 a year, the biggest sticking point in talks to avoid the $600 billion mix of tax hikes and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff, which looms in early 2013.

Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which is in charge of tax legislation, said Obama's position is a good starting point but there is wiggle room for a deal.

"The president has said he would veto any legislation that extends the top two rate cuts, and I think that is a good place for him to be," Baucus said. "Having said that ... there is a lot of room for negotiation."

The top tax rate now is 35 percent for the wealthiest Americans. Without action, that will rise to 39.6 percent on Jan. 1, the rate on this group during the 1990s.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger