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November 16, 2012

Congressional Leaders Optimistic About Fiscal Talks

by Dan Robinson

Republican and Democratic congressional leaders voiced optimism after White House talks Friday with  President about chances for an agreement to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" facing the United States.  The White House called the talks constructive.  

Emerging after just over an hour of talks with the president, House and Senate leaders assessed the meeting positively.

The House Speaker, Republican Congressman John Boehner, said he presented a "framework" that he believes is consistent with Obama's goal of achieving a balanced deficit-reduction agreement.

Boehner and others confirmed that the contentious issue of new revenue to pay for deficit reduction is now on the table in negotiations, but the Ohio congressman stressed the critical importance of identifying spending reductions.

"While we're going to continue to have revenue on the table, it is going to be incumbent on my colleagues to show the American people that we are serious about cutting spending and solving our fiscal dilemma," said Boehner.

The Senate majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid, also sounded an optimistic tone, saying all at the table with Obama realize that postponing an agreement is not an option.

"We all know something has be done. There is no more 'let's do it some other time.' We're going to do it now, we feel very comfortable with each other, and this is not something we are going to wait until the last day of December to get it done," said Reid.

Obama opened the meeting with a call for bipartisan cooperation.
 
"Our challenge is to make sure we are able to cooperate together, work together, [find] some common ground, make some tough compromises, build some consensus to do the  people's business.  And what the folks are looking for, and I think all of us agree on this, is action.  They want to see that we are focused on them, not focused on our politics here in Washington," said President Obama.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she feels confident about reaching an agreement, and hopes the risk of another economic downturn can be averted.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell reiterated a call to bring down spending on entitlement programs, saying a solution requires fixing "the real problem."

The so-called "fiscal cliff" refers to about $600 billion in combined tax increases and spending cuts taking effect January 1st if there is no agreement by Congress and the president.

Tax rises and deep budget cuts would take place automatically, under terms of a legally binding bipartisan agreement in 2011 that put off the deadline for debt reduction until 2013.
 
Before the talks, the White House said the president's opening position would be a proposal to generate a combined $1.6 trillion in new revenue for the government over the next decade.  
 
With added political clout from his election victory, Obama has refused any deficit deal that would extend Bush-era tax cuts for the top two percent of income earners.
 
But he has also signaled flexibility, saying he remains open to steps that would bring further savings from huge government entitlement programs.
 
Republicans have generally resisted raising taxes on the wealthy, but are under pressure to moderate the obstructionism they demonstrated in the president's first term.  
 
Speaker Boehner said the framework he put forward in Friday's meeting is aimed at reforming the tax code.  But specifics of this remain unclear.

The calendar for progress is tight, with members of Congress about to return to their home districts for the annual Thanksgiving holiday recess.