WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner began the public versions of their negotiations Friday over the impending “fiscal cliff,” with each sounding notes of both compromise and caution.
The sticking point is sure to be the president’s insistence on raising taxes on the wealthy to help reduce the deficit, a staple of his successful re-election campaign. Republicans oppose it.
In an eight-minute speech at the White House, Obama urged the House to pass a bill the Senate already passed to cut taxes for the middle class. But he also said he wasn’t wedded to everything in his plan.
“I want to be clear,” Obama said. “I’m open to compromise.”
Earlier, Boehner held a press conference on Capitol Hill where he said that virtually everything was open to negotiation—except higher tax rates.
“Everyone wants to get our economy moving again,” the speaker said. “Everyone wants to get more Americans back to work again. Raising tax rates will slow down our ability to create the jobs everyone says they want.”
Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year, and automatic spending cuts totaling $109 billion in fiscal 2013 that could impact a host of government services and functions are slated to take effect Jan. 2.
The serious talks will occur behind the scenes. But for the public, fresh off a long campaign full of political vitriol and partisan division, Boehner appeared to offer an olive branch.
“This is an opportunity for the president to lead,” he said. “This is his moment to engage the Congress and work towards a solution that can pass both chambers.”
Both men said they ready to talk. They spoke earlier in the week after the election, a conversation Boehner described as “cordial.” At his White House event, Obama said he invited congressional leaders of both parties to the White House to meet next week. He also he would also be speaking to the business, labor and civic leaders.
On Capitol Hill, Boehner outlined in general terms how additional revenue could be raised: by overhauling the tax code, closing loopholes and spurring economic growth. But he wouldn’t get specific.
“It’s clear that there are a lot of special interest loopholes in the tax code, both corporate and personal,” he said. “It’s also clear there are all kinds of deductions, some of which make sense, some don’t.”
That was similar to the position taken by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who also would not specify what deductions he would change, only that he would.
But the president said the solution needs to include a balance, both spending cuts and tax increases and reiterated his call for keeping Bush-era tax rates for those who earn less than $250,000.
"It was debated over and over and over again, and on Tuesday night we found out that a majority of Americans agree with my approach," the president said. "Our job now is to get a majority in Congress to reflect the will of the American people."
Boehner would also not specify what goal he had for the federal deficit.
“Clearly the deficit is a drag on our economy,” he said, but added, “I don’t want to box myself in.”
Nor would Boehner get precise about what changes he would want in entitlements like Medicare or Social Security.
“This has to be dealt with,” he said. “So everything, everything on the revenue side and the spending side has to be looked at.”