Obama, Boehner return to verbal fisticuffs on fiscal cliff


McClatchy Newspapers

President Barack Obama on Wednesday accused House Republicans of letting their animosity toward him prevent them from approving a deal to avert the nation’s imminent fiscal crisis, even though the two sides had been close to a compromise days ago.

“They keep on finding ways to say no as opposed to finding ways to say yes,” Obama said at a midday news conference at the White House. “I don’t know how much of that just has to do with, you know, it is very hard for them to say yes to me. But, you know, at some point, you know, they’ve got to take me out of it and think about their voters and think about what’s best for the country.”

Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have been negotiating behind closed doors to meet an end-of-the-year deadline to prevent another recession. On Monday, they seemed close to a deal. But talks stalled the next day after Boehner introduced a backup plan that would raises taxes only for those who earn more than $1 million a year.

The president threatened to veto the speaker’s so-called Plan B if it came to his desk. In a report issued Wednesday, the White House argued that the plan – which does not continue the American Opportunity Tax Credit and improvements to the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit – would raise taxes for about 25 million middle-class households while preserving large tax cuts for millionaires, hurting the unemployed and reducing Medicare.

In response to Obama’s comments, Boehner, R-Ohio, met with reporters in a hallway outside his Capitol office to complain that the Obama offer “fails to meet the test that the president promised the people: a balanced approach.” He said he hoped the president “will get serious soon” about working with Republicans.

The House of Representatives is expected to take up Plan B – legislation to make permanent most of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts, except for those affecting millionaires – Thursday. The bill is not expected to win Senate approval.

“Tomorrow, the House will pass legislation to make permanent tax relief for every American, 99.8 percent of the American people,” Boehner told reporters. “Then the president will have a decision to make. He can call on Senate Democrats to pass that bill, or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history.”

Then, after a mere 50 seconds, an angry Boehner walked away, without taking questions.

The most important vote tally Thursday will involve how many Republicans go along. Many conservatives remain wary of any tax increase, though Americans for Tax Reform, which has a no-tax pledge, said a vote on the million-dollar tax threshold would not violate its principles. Some still remain opposed.

“We don’t buy into the Washington-speak, suggesting that these are actually tax cuts,” said Andy Roth, vice president for government affairs at the Club for Growth. Lawmakers contend that by extending the Bush-era cuts, they're cutting taxes that would otherwise go up next year. Roth argues tax rates are not being cut at all – they would simply remain the same.

Republican leaders hope that if a large majority of their 241-member caucus votes for Plan B, they can show Obama that a chunk of Republicans is willing to vote for higher taxes. The vote also gives them a fallback, a chance to say they were pro-active in pushing for ways to avoid the fiscal cliff,

Most Democrats are expected to oppose the plan, even though they’ve supported such measures in the recent past.

Obama said he plans to reach out to congressional leaders of both parties in the coming days to “find out what is holding this thing up” after, he said, he met Boehner more than halfway.

“Frankly up until about a couple of days ago, if you looked at it, the Republicans in the House and Speaker Boehner I think were in a position to say: ‘We’ve gotten a fair deal,’” Obama said. “There’s been a lot of posturing up on Capitol Hill instead of just going ahead and getting stuff done. We’ve been wasting a lot of time.”

The two had begun to coalesce around a plan that would raise taxes for households with annual incomes of more than $400,000, cut spending $2.1 billion and apply a less-generous measure of inflation to Social Security and other programs to lower cost-of-living adjustments. But Republicans are skeptical of the White House’s calculations on budget cuts, raising questions about the savings on interest.

“What I’ve said is that in order to arrive at a compromise, I am prepared to do some very tough things, some things that some Democrats don’t want to see and probably there are a few Republicans who don’t want to see, either,” Obama said.

Obama is scheduled to leave Friday for Hawaii for the holidays, but he plans to stay in Washington if no deal is reached.

Failure to reach a deadline by the end of the year would mean that $500 billion in tax increases take effect early next year, coupled with $109 billion in spending reductions, the first installment toward $1.2 trillion in cuts over two years.

Email: akumar@mcclatchydc.com, dlightman@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @anitakumar01, @lightmandavid

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