No one retreating; cliff talks seem at standstill
WASHINGTON — A year-end deadline approaching, negotiations to avoid an economy-rattling “fiscal cliff” appeared at a standstill Monday. Republicans pressed President Barack Obama to name specific spending cuts he will support, while the White House insisted the GOP agree explicitly to raise tax rates on upper incomes.
At a campaign-style event in Michigan, Obama warned his listeners their taxes will rise on Jan. 1 without action by the Congress. “That’s a hit you can’t afford to take,” he declared.
He spoke one day after meeting privately at the White House with House Speaker John Boehner, whose office expressed frustration with the talks to date. “We continue to wait for the president to identify the spending cuts he’s willing to make as part of the ‘balanced’ approach he promised the American people,’” a written statement from the Ohio Republican’s office said.
The negotiations are designed to prevent across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to begin at the turn of the year, a combination that economists say poses the threat of a new recession.
While leaders in both parties said they are eager to avoid that “cliff,” negotiations on a plan to cut deficits by other measures have turned into a major postelection showdown between opposing sides in a divided government. Many Republicans agree that Obama and the Democrats hold most of the political leverage, given the president’s re-election more than a month ago after a campaign in which he said the wealthy should pay more in taxes.
If anything, the president has toughened his demands in recent days, insisting not only that tax rates must rise, but also that Congress give him and future presidents the authority to raise the government’s borrowing limit without prior approval by lawmakers.
Boehner, while claiming his own election mandate for the Republican majority in the House, said within a few days of the voting he was prepared to buck many in his party and support additional tax revenue as part of a fiscal cliff agreement.
The Ohio Republican has said repeatedly he opposes Obama’s plan to raise tax rates for anyone, adding that he prefers to raise revenue by closing loopholes. Yet he has not yet ruled out giving the president his way, and some Republicans have said they are prepared to do so — encouraging Democrats to say they anticipate the speaker will eventually yield on the point.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters as Obama went to Michigan that “the president believes that a deal is possible. It requires acceptance and acknowledgement in a concrete way by Republicans that the top 2 percent will see an increase in their rates.”
Republicans have increasingly expressed frustration in recent days as they accuse Obama and the Democrats of failing to talk in specifics when it comes to spending cuts many of their constituencies are likely to balk at.
In talks that ended in failure 18 months ago, according to aides in both political parties, Obama had tentatively agreed to a proposal to raise the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67 beginning in a decade, and had also said he would accept a change to slow the annual cost-of-living increases that go to recipients of Social Security and other federal benefits.