Boehner, Obama meet amid frustration over "fiscal cliff" talks

WASHINGTON Thu Dec 13, 2012 6:44pm EST

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 7, 2012. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 7, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner met for an hour on Thursday as frustration mounted over the lack of progress on averting the "fiscal cliff" of steep tax increases and spending cuts.

With an end-of-year deadline looming, the two leaders came together at the White House in an attempt to rejuvenate negotiations that had become bogged down in a daily round of finger-pointing.

Earlier in the day, Boehner criticized Obama for putting jobs and the economic recovery at risk by insisting on raising tax rates for the wealthiest 2 percent.

White House spokesman Jay Carney responded by reaffirming Obama's commitment to raising the top rates and complaining there had been no movement from Republicans on that crucial topic.

"What we have not seen from the Republicans is any movement at all on the fundamental issue," Carney told reporters. "Republicans need to accept the fact that rates will go up on the top 2 percent."

Economists say failure to reach an agreement before January 1 could tip the country back into recession. The main hurdle is the expiring tax cuts, which Obama wants extended for all but the rich and Boehner wants extended for everyone.

But with positions seeming to harden, both sides also emphasized their differences on Obama's request for permanent authority to increase U.S. borrowing as part of a fiscal-cliff agreement and on Republican calls for an increase in the eligibility age for recipients of the Medicare healthcare program.

At a news conference, Boehner occasionally raised his voice in criticism of Obama's bottom-line insistence on raising tax rates on the rich.

"Raising tax rates will hurt small businesses at a time when we're expecting small businesses to be the engine of job creation in America," said Boehner, who used a chart to illustrate his point that curbing spending increases was the key to deficit reduction.

If Obama persisted on a path of higher spending and higher taxes, he said, "this chart is going to look a lot worse."

Afterward, his spokesman said Boehner would return to his home state of Ohio on Friday for the weekend, but was available if there were more talks. "Ohio has both cellphone service and airports," spokesman Michael Steel said. "It won't be a problem."

A seven-day rally in world shares came to a halt and commodity prices slipped on Thursday after negotiations over the fiscal cliff appeared to stall.

Today there's a certain sense that both sides are still apart," said Gordon "Charlop, managing director at Rosenblatt Securities in New York, describing trading as "tweaking" while investors watch Washington's back-and-forth drama.

While Republicans fumed, Obama planned to continue his public-relations offensive with a round of interviews with anchors from local television stations. He was interviewed by ABC's Barbara Walters two days ago.

A flurry of new polls showed strong support for Obama's position. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC survey, three-quarters of Americans say they would accept raising taxes on the wealthy to avoid the cliff. Even among Republicans, some 61 percent say they would accept tax increases on high-earners.

'REALITY SHOULD SET IN'

A Pew Research Center poll showed Obama's approval rating rising and 55 percent saying he was making a serious effort to engage in the fiscal talks, while just 32 percent said Republicans were serious about a deal.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, citing the polls, said Boehner "can't ignore the people forever" on the tax issue. "At some point, reality should set in," he told reporters.

The polls have put Republicans in a difficult negotiating position, and pressure has grown on Boehner in recent weeks from the right and left. Some Republicans have expressed a willingness to give in on higher tax rates in exchange for deeper spending cuts, while conservatives have demanded that Boehner stand firm.

"I'm not concerned about my job as speaker," Boehner, who faces re-election to the leadership post in January, told reporters.

Boehner also dismissed any notion that Republicans would agree to giving Obama more authority on the debt ceiling.

"Congress is never going to give up our ability to control the purse," Boehner said. "The debt limit ought to be used to bring fiscal sanity to Washington."

A group of 72 House Democrats urged Obama to reject Republican calls to raise the Medicare eligibility age.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, told reporters he was told by the White House that raising the eligibility age for qualifying for Medicare benefits is not in the mix anymore.

"My understanding is that is no longer one of the items being considered by the White House," Durbin told reporters.

He said doing so "creates some serious issues for a lot of people who may be caught in the gap between retirement and eligibility. Where are they going to get health insurance? Many of them are sick people."

(Additional reporting by Kim Dixon and Rachelle Younglai; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Alistair Bell and Mohammad Zargham)

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Comments (51)
flashrooster wrote:
This should be intolerable to all Americans who love this country. Bohner should be impeached for dereliction of duties. He can’t lead. Replace him with someone who can. The Republicans are doing harm to the United States of America. Raise the taxes already. We’re talking about a few percentage points on multimillionaires and billionaires. If we can’t get something this simple done, we’re in big trouble. We need to stop being so tolerant of these damaging political games.

The Republicans don’t have an argument. Keeping the tax cuts won’t create jobs. Doing away with them won’t affect job creation. The American people reelected Obama who made it clear that he would raise taxes on the rich if reelected. We need the additional revenue. Taxes are near historical lows. Polls show that Americans favor raising taxes on the rich. Why do the Republicans still insist on tying up our government and doing even more damage to America’s credibility protecting these tax cuts for the rich? Geez, people. To people with brain function it’s obvious that we should never have given them the tax cuts in the first place. They didn’t need them, they didn’t create jobs, and we’ve been having record deficits ever sense. Hello!

These anti-American politicians MUST GO. They’re hurting us, like an attack from outside. If they could succeed at doing this same harm to our country and they were from another country, we’d be all up in arms. We’d be sending in troops, aircraft carriers, or drones. Instead, we sit back and just take it over, and over, and over, and over again, and again, and again, and again. You’d think that being lied to about WMDs and mushroom clouds would have taught us our lesson. 4,500 of America’s best died because of that Republican blunder and deception. If we’d been more diligent, more insistent that Bush and the GOP prove their claims those 4,500 soldiers would still be with us and their families. When are we going to start caring? Everyone should be writing and calling their representatives demanding an end to this nonsense. And we need to make it clear that we don’t want to keep seeing this crap continue happening with everything else. Do your jobs, GOP.

And the Republicans had the nerve to attack Obama’s patriotism saying he goes around apologizing for America. He never did, but if the Republicans are allowed to continue, someone will need to go around and apologize for them. There’s a country to run and we the people must see to it that we have a government that represents us and who will run this country. We have a responsibility to ourselves and all those who sacrificed their lives defending our right to have a government in which we are represented, where our will is done. The Republicans have rejected American democracy and are demanding authoritarianism. We can’t allow it on our watch.

Dec 12, 2012 8:36pm EST  --  Report as abuse
BurnerJack wrote:
If “Fiscal Cliff” means taking real, concrete steps to fiscal responsibility, we should be going over this cliff like lemmings. In the LONG RUN, fiscal responsibility will NOT commit future generations to indentured servitude or squander our freedom by allowing us to be extorted with the threat of economic warfare.
Everyone has been standing on soapboxes for years stating “something must be done!” yet now that that “something is here, all I hear is hysterical whining. Washington knows that whether raising taxes or conversely, lowering and controlling spending can only be done with unpopular action. This is why it can only occur in lame duck sessions.
The trickery being performed on the Washington Stage isn’t brinksmanship, nay, it’s the illussion of conflict in order to blame the “other side of the aisle” all the while working in concert to do what everyone knows needs to be done.
This is why I believe the “Fiscal Cliff” is inevitable.

Dec 12, 2012 9:20pm EST  --  Report as abuse
RSaltyDog wrote:
Jump the cliff. Waste of time negotiating with GOP/TEAParty. Zealots and facists. Jump the cliff.

Dec 12, 2012 9:36pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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California state worker Albert Jagow (L) goes over his retirement options with Calpers Retirement Program Specialist JeanAnn Kirkpatrick at the Calpers regional office in Sacramento, California October 21, 2009. Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension fund, manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million people, with assets comparable in value to the entire GDP of Israel. The Calpers investment portfolio had a historic drop in value, going from a peak of $250 billion in the fall of 2007 to $167 billion in March 2009, a loss of about a third during that period. It is now around $200 billion. REUTERS/Max Whittaker   (UNITED STATES) - RTXPWOZ

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