Obama, Boehner meet to discuss 'fiscal cliff' negotiations

The President and Speaker of the House met privately at the White House on Sunday.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington last week to discuss the pending fiscal cliff.

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met Sunday at the White House to discuss the ongoing negotiations over the impending "fiscal cliff," the first meeting between just the two leaders since they both won re-election.

Spokesmen for both Obama and Boehner said they agreed to not release details of the conversation, but emphasized that the lines of communication remain open.

The meeting comes as the White House and Congress try to break an impasse over finding a way to stop a combination of automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to kick in at the beginning of next year.

Obama met in November with Boehner, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The president spoke by telephone with Reid and in person with Pelosi on Friday. The president is traveling to Redford, Mich., on Monday to promote his agenda in a speech to workers at an engine factory; auto workers helped Obama win Michigan in last month's election.

Obama has been pushing higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans as one way to reduce the deficit — a position Boehner and other House Republicans have been steadfastly against. Republicans are demanding steeper cuts in costly government entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.

One GOP senator said Sunday that Senate Republicans would probably agree to higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans if it meant getting a chance to overhaul entitlement programs.

The comments by Bob Corker of Tennessee — a fiscal conservative who has been gaining stature in the Senate as a pragmatic deal broker — puts new pressure on Boehner and other Republican leaders to rethink their long-held assertion that even the very rich shouldn't see their rates go up next year. GOP leaders have argued that the revenue gained by hiking the top two tax rates would be trivial to the deficit, and that any tax hike hurts job creation.

But Corker said insisting on that red line — especially since Obama won re-election after campaigning on raising tax rates on the wealthy — might not be wise.

"There is a growing group of folks looking at this and realizing that we don't have a lot of cards as it relates to the tax issue before year end," Corker told "Fox News Sunday."

If Republicans agree to Obama's plan to increase rates on the top 2 percent of Americans, Corker added, "the focus then shifts to entitlements and maybe it puts us in a place where we actually can do something that really saves the nation."

Besides getting tax hikes through the Republican-dominated House, Corker's proposal faces another hurdle: Democrats haven't been receptive to GOP proposals on the entitlement programs. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Sunday was skeptical about proposals to increase the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67. He said he doesn't see Congress addressing the complicated issue of Medicare overhaul in the three weeks remaining before the end of the year.

"I just don't think we can do it in a matter of days here before the end of the year," Durbin said. "We need to address that in a thoughtful way through the committee structure after the first of the year."

And hard-line fiscal conservatives in the House are holding fast to their position.

"No Republican wants to vote for a rate tax increase," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the House Republican Conference.

Added Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.: "I'm not sure there is support for the rate hikes. There is support for revenue by cleaning up the code."

Still, at least one House Republican has said there is another way. Rep. Tom Cole, of Oklahoma, has said Obama and Boehner should agree not to raise tax rates on the majority of Americans and negotiate the rates for top earners later. Cole said Sunday that most House Republicans would vote for that approach because it doesn't include a rate hike.

"You know, it's not waving a white flag to recognize political reality," Cole said.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., already has said he could support higher tax rates on upper incomes as part of a comprehensive plan to cut the federal deficit.

When asked Sunday what it would take to sign on to a tax rate increase, Coburn echoed Corker's comments by responding, "Significant entitlement reform." He quickly added, however, that he has estimated that such a tax rate increase would only affect about 7 percent of the deficit.

"Will I accept a tax increase as a part of a deal to actually solve our problems? Yes," Coburn said. "But the president's negotiating with the wrong people. He needs to be negotiating with our bondholders in China, because if we don't put a credible plan on the discussion, ultimately, we all lose."

Obama's plan would raise $1.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years, partly by letting decade-old tax cuts on the country's highest earners expire at the end of the year. He would continue those Bush-era tax cuts for everyone except individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples making above $250,000. The highest rates on top-paid Americans would rise from 33 percent and 35 percent to 36 percent and 39.6 percent.

Boehner has offered $800 billion in new revenues to be raised by reducing or eliminating unspecified tax breaks on upper-income people. The Republican plan would cut spending by $1.4 trillion, including by trimming annual increases in Social Security payments and raising the eligibility age for Medicare.

Hensarling and Coburn spoke on ABC's "This Week." Blackburn and Cole spoke on CNN's "State of the Union." Durbin spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.