OBAMA ON GOP’S TAX DEMANDS: ‘I DON’T HAVE THE MATH’…. President Obama participated in a town-hall discussion on the economy today on CNBC, and heard from some folks who weren’t necessarily pleased with him.

But given the debate on Capitol Hill about tax policy, the president’s remarks on the subject may have been the most noteworthy. “Here’s what I can’t do,” Obama said. “I can’t give tax cuts to the top 2% of Americans — 86% of that money going people making $1 million or more — and lower the deficit at the same time. I don’t have the math.

“I’d love to do it. Anybody in elected office would love nothing more than to give everybody tax cuts — not cut services, make sure that I’m providing help to student loans, make sure that we’re keeping our roads safe and our bridges safe, make sure that we’re paying for our veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. At some point, the numbers just don’t work, so what I’ve said is very simple. Let’s go ahead and move forward on what we agree to — which is tax relief for 97% of Americans, in fact, everybody would get tax relief, just up to $250,000 a year or more — and let’s the economy moving faster. Let’s get it growing faster.

“At some point in the future, if we want to have discussions about further lowering tax rates, let’s do so at a time when we can actually afford it.”

Watching this, my first instinct is to wonder whether the American public in general will find this persuasive, which is why it’s probably worth re-emphasizing that they already do.

At the same event, the president took note of the ambiguities of the Tea Partiers’ agenda. He summarized their pitch this way: “We’re going to control government spending. We’re going to propose $4 trillion in additional tax cuts and somehow magically this is all going to work.” Obama would like to know if these same activists would want to cut veterans benefits, Social Security, and/or Medicare. “The challenge for the Tea Party movement is to identify what exactly would you do,” he said.

Sounds like a challenge. What do you say, conservatives?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.