President Obama and congressional leaders are feeling “constructive” about their bipartisan talks to avoid the "fiscal cliff."
A one-hour meeting at the White House Friday morning featuring House and Senate leaders – Speaker John Boehner (R) and minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D) alongside Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) and minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) – apparently produced good feeling, as each lawmaker mentioned in post-meeting statements how “constructive” the meeting was. They promised to continue work to find an alternative to the fiscal cliff's automatic tax hikes and steep spending cuts even as Mr. Obama heads to Asia and Congress heads home for Thanksgiving.
Both Republican leaders signaled willingness to do what had been a show-stopper in the past: accept higher government tax revenues in exchange for spending cuts that include changes to entitlement programs like Medicare.
“I outlined a framework that deals with reforming our tax code and reforming our spending, and I believe that the framework that I’ve outlined in our meeting today is consistent with the president’s call for a fair and balanced approach,” said Speaker Boehner. “To show our seriousness, we’ve put revenue on the table as long as it’s accompanied by significant spending cuts.”
"We are prepared to put revenue on the table provided we fix the real problem," added Senator McConnell soon thereafter. "Most of my members I think without exception believe that we're in the dilemma we're in not because we taxed too little but because we spent too much."
McConnell put a special emphasis on changes to entitlement programs. “I can say on the part of my members that we fully understand that you can’t save the country until you have entitlement programs that fit the demographics of a changing America in the coming years,” he said.
Democrats, too, signaled an understanding that both sides would have to give ground.
“We have a cornerstone of being able to work something out. We're both going to have to give up some of the things that we know are a problem,” said Senator Reid. “And so it is like when we arrive at a point where we all know something has to be done, there is no more 'Let's do it some other time.' We're going to do it now.”
White House staff will continue talks with Hill leadership until Congress reconvenes after Thanksgiving. Reid said his understanding is that the group would meet again at that time.
Time is of the essence. Some $600 billion in higher taxes and lower government spending – known as the fiscal cliff – is set to impact the US economy beginning Jan. 1. Most economic forecasters say the US would experience at least a mild recession if no alternative is agreed upon.
Many expect a final accord to incorporate a legislative framework for long-term goals, such as the tax reform sought by Boehner, while addressing a concern that was Ms. Pelosi's focus during the meeting: What should Washington do right now?
Pelosi said she is wants a credible deposit on deficit reduction in the short term that will reassure Americans and global markets that the legislative process will produce a viable longer-term solution come 2013.
"We should have a deadline. We should show some milestones of success so that confidence can build as we reach our solution,” Pelosi said. “Because if we do not reach agreement, not only will we miss the opportunity for doing something good for our economy and lifting the spirits and the confidence of our country, we will have an economic downturn that must be avoided.”
Reid expressed hope that the group would not wait until the clock has wound all the way down to reach an accord.
“I feel very good about what we were able to talk about in there,” Reid said. “This isn’t something we’re going to wait until the last day of December to get it done. We have a plan, we’re going to move forward on it.”