Obama, Boehner resume fiscal cliff talks
WASHINGTON — President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met on Sunday in the White House to discuss the ongoing negotiations over the impending “fiscal cliff,” the first meeting between just the two leaders since Election Day.
Spokesmen for Obama and Boehner said they agreed not to release details of the conversation, but emphasized that the lines of communication remain open.
The meeting happened as the White House and Congress try to break an impasse over finding a way to stop a combination of automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to kick in at the beginning of next year.
Obama met in November with Boehner, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The president spoke by telephone with Reid and in person with Pelosi on Friday.
Obama has been pushing higher tax rates for the wealthiest Americans as one way to reduce the deficit — a position House Republicans have been steadfastly against. Republicans are demanding steeper cuts in costly government entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
One GOP senator said on Sunday that Senate Republicans would probably agree to higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans if it meant getting a chance to overhaul entitlement programs.
The comments by Bob Corker of Tennessee — a fiscal conservative who has been gaining stature in the Senate as a pragmatic deal broker — puts new pressure on Boehner and other Republican leaders to rethink their long-held assertion that even the very rich shouldn't see their rates go up next year. GOP leaders have argued that the revenue gained by raising the top two tax rates would be trivial to the deficit, and that any tax increase hurts job creation.
But Corker said insisting on that red line — especially since Obama won re-election after campaigning on raising tax rates on the wealthy — might not be wise.
“There is a growing group of folks looking at this and realizing that we don't have a lot of cards as it relates to the tax issue before year end,” Corker told “Fox News Sunday.”
If Republicans agree to Obama's plan to increase rates on the top 2 percent of Americans, Corker added, “the focus then shifts to entitlements and maybe it puts us in a place where we actually can do something that really saves the nation.”
Besides getting tax increases through the Republican-dominated House, Corker's proposal faces another hurdle: Democrats haven't been receptive to GOP proposals on the entitlement programs. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Sunday was skeptical about proposals to increase the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67.
“I just don't think we can do it in a matter of days here before the end of the year,” Durbin said.
And hard-line fiscal conservatives in the House are holding fast to their position.
“No Republican wants to vote for a rate tax increase,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the House Republican Conference.
Added Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.: “I'm not sure there is support for the rate hikes. There is support for revenue by cleaning up the code.”
Still, at least one House Republican has said there is another way. Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma has said Obama and Boehner should agree not to raise tax rates on the majority of Americans and negotiate the rates for top earners later. Cole said on Sunday that most House Republicans would vote for that approach because it doesn't include a rate increase.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., already has said he could support higher tax rates on upper incomes as part of a comprehensive plan to cut the federal deficit.
“Will I accept a tax increase as a part of a deal to actually solve our problems? Yes,” Coburn said. “But the president's negotiating with the wrong people. He needs to be negotiating with our bondholders in China, because if we don't put a credible plan on the discussion, ultimately, we all lose.”
Obama's plan would raise $1.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years, partly by letting decade-old tax cuts on the country's highest earners expire at the end of the year. He would continue those Bush-era tax cuts for everyone except individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples making above $250,000. The highest rates on top-paid Americans would rise from 33 percent and 35 percent to 36 percent and 39.6 percent.
Boehner has offered $800 billion in new revenues to be raised by reducing or eliminating unspecified tax breaks. The Republican plan would cut spending by $1.4 trillion.
Hensarling and Coburn spoke on ABC's “This Week.” Blackburn and Cole spoke on CNN's “State of the Union.” Durbin spoke on NBC's “Meet the Press.”