WASHINGTON, D.C. — House Speaker John Boehner accused President Barack Obama of being so resistant to curbing federal spending that he risks an agreement to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of wide-ranging tax increases and spending cuts that will be automatically triggered in less than three weeks.
“Unfortunately, the White House is so unserious about cutting spending that it appears willing to slow-walk any agreement and walk our economy right up to the fiscal cliff,” Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Thursday. “And doing that puts jobs in our country in danger.”
Boehner’s comments underscored how his talks with Obama remain stalled over crafting a compromise deficit-cutting package of revenue increases and spending cuts. Without such an agreement, tax hikes and spending reductions will begin taking effect in early January, steps that economists warn could renew the recession.
Boehner said the White House is demanding too little in spending savings and too much in fresh spending on programs designed to stimulate the economy. Still, even as Obama continues to insist on sizable tax increases on the highest earners – including income tax rate increases – Boehner signaled flexibility If the president would accept deeper spending cuts.
“If the president will step up and show us he’s willing to make the spending cuts that are needed, I think we can do some real good in the days ahead,” he said.
Boehner said he would reject White House demands that as part of a deal, Congress agree to give up much of its ability to block increases in the government’s ability to borrow money. The Treasury is expected to run out of its power to borrow more money early next year – a situation that congressional Republicans successfully used last year to demand spending cuts from Obama.
“Congress is never going to give up our ability to control the purse,” Boehner said. “And the fact is that the debt limit ought to be used to bring fiscal sanity to Washington, D.C.”
Obama planned to make his case on the fiscal cliff in interviews Thursday afternoon with four local television stations in Philadelphia, Miami, Minneapolis and Sacramento, Calif. The TV markets reach viewers in congressional districts represented by Republican House members but won by Obama in last month’s election.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama was “interested in communicating to Americans in every corner of the country about his commitment to work in bipartisan fashion with Congress to ensure that income taxes don’t go up on middle class families at the end of the year.”
Republicans still aren’t budging on Obama’s demands for higher tax rates on upper bracket earners, despite the president’s convincing election victory and opinion polls showing support for the idea.
Democrats in turn are now resisting steps, such as raising the eligibility age for Medicare, that they were willing to consider just a year and a half ago, when Boehner was in a better tactical position.
Neither side has given much ground, and Boehner’s exchange of proposals with Obama seemed to generate hard feelings more than progress. The White House has slightly reduced its demands on taxes – from $1.6 trillion over a decade to $1.4 trillion – but isn’t yielding on demands that rates rise for wealthier earners.
Boehner responded with an offer very much like one he gave the White House more than a week ago that proposed $800 billion in new revenue, half of Obama’s demand. Boehner is also pressing for an increase in the Medicare eligibility age and a stingier cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security recipients.
On Thursday, Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican and leading conservative figure, predicted that Obama would prevail in the fight over taxes.
A leading conservative who’s resigning from the Senate is predicting that President Barack Obama will win the battle over raising taxes.
“He’s going to get his wish. I believe we’re going to be raising taxes, and not just on the top earners,” DeMint, who is leaving the Senate to become president of the Heritage Institution think tank, said in an appearance on “CBS This Morning.”
DeMint said a tax increase would amount to a “political trophy” for Obama but said it would be bad for the country.
“The president’s proposal is not a plan, it’s not a solution,” he said.
There is increasing concern about a Dec. 31 deadline to stop the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and the start of across-the-board spending cuts that are the result of Washington’s failure to complete a deficit-reduction deal last year. Even if an agreement can be reached, the halting pace of negotiations is jeopardizing chances that it could be written into proper legislative form and passed through both House and Senate before the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3.
“I do have an increasing concern that the speaker ... is trying to string this out until Jan. 3 because that’s when he would be re-elected as speaker,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. “And I think he’s nervous that if he can’t get a majority of his House Republican members to support a reasonable agreement that that could put his speakership election in jeopardy. And so that might cause him to try and string these talks” along.
Republicans said it’s Democrats who are dragging out the talks.
“In the past 48 hours, the president has not been negotiating in good faith in my opinion,” said Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, who said he was increasingly pessimistic that a deal could be reached.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Nyia Hawkins contributed to this report.