School murders silence "cliff" rhetoric as deadline nears

WASHINGTON Sat Dec 15, 2012 2:12pm EST

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner speaks to reporters in the Capitol in Washington December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner speaks to reporters in the Capitol in Washington December 13, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mass murder in Connecticut silenced "fiscal cliff" talk on Saturday as the White House and Congress quietly got ready for a final scramble to avert the tax hikes and spending cuts set for the New Year, with sessions of the U.S. House of Representatives now scheduled just days before Christmas.

President Barack Obama canceled a trip he had planned to make next Wednesday to Portland, Maine to press his case for tax hikes for the wealthy. His weekly radio and Internet address on Saturday focused on Newtown, the site of Friday's school shootings, in which a gunman killed 20 children and six adults before taking his own life.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio canceled the standard Republican radio response to Obama "so that President Obama can speak for the entire nation at this time of mourning," he said in a statement issued late Friday.

The moratorium on cliff pronouncements masked a growing recognition that the two sides could remain deadlocked at the end of the year on the key sticking point - whether to leave low tax rates in place except for high earners, as Obama wants, or extend them for all taxpayers, as Boehner wants.

With multiple polls showing that the public supports Obama's position, Republicans in the U.S. Senate prodded their counterparts in the House to make a face-saving retreat, in a fashion that would allow Obama's proposal to pass the Republican-controlled House while simultaneously letting Republicans cast a vote against it.

Republicans could then shift the debate onto territory they consider more favorable to them, cutting government spending to reduce the deficit.

"Just about everyone is throwing stuff on the wall to see if anything sticks," one Republican aide said with reference to various proposals being discussed on how to proceed. Alluding to public opinion polls, the aide added: "We know if there is no deal, we will get blamed."

"We could win the argument on spending cuts," said a Republican senator who asked not to be identified. "We aren't winning the argument on taxes."

However, Republican leaders in both chambers are leery about seeming to cave on taxes. "There's concern that if we did that, Obama would simply declare victory and walk away and not address spending," said one aide. "We don't trust these guys."

Some of the prodding was coming from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Don Stewart, a McConnell spokesman, said the minority leader in the Democratic-controlled Senate hasn't embraced any single plan, but has discussed and circulated measures offered by fellow Senate Republicans.

"Senator McConnell does not advocate raising taxes on anybody or anything," Stewart said.

"We're focused on getting a balanced plan from the White House that will begin to solve the problem of our debt and deficit to improve the economy and create American jobs," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

"Right now, all the president is offering is massive tax hikes with little or no spending cuts and reforms," Steel said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor scheduled "possible legislation related to expiring provisions of law," a reference to the expiring tax cuts, for the end of the week, portending a weekend session.

Cantor has said the House would meet through the Christmas holidays and beyond.

Hopes expressed after the November6 general election of some "grand bargain" on deficit reduction have all but disappeared, at least for this year. This is partly because time is running out and partly result of growing warnings from Democrats in Congress that they would not support big changes in the Medicare program, the government-run health insurance program for seniors that is a major contributor to the government's debt.

House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California ruled out one frequently mentioned proposal - raising the age of eligibility for Medicare, in a December 12 CBS television interview.

Asked if she was drawing a "red line," around that idea, Pelosi said her comments were "something that says, 'don't go there,' because it doesn't produce money.

(Reporting by Thomas Ferraro and Kim Dixon; Editing by Fred Barbash and David Brunnstrom)

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Comments (8)
TheNewWorld wrote:
As much of a tragedy as the shooting was, the fiscal cliff is a big deal and we are heading towards another recession. If a deal is made, which the Republicans would be wise to do, we will have a debt crisis and we will be headed towards another recession. If a deal is made then, which the Republicans would be wise to do, we will still have a debt crisis and we will be headed towards another recession.

Does anyone get it? Kicking the can down the road is not going to fix our issues. We have a well deserved recession coming due to the irresponsible Republicans and Democrats who have held office from 2000 to present day. We spend $400 billion a year on interest payments alone. This is criminal in my opinion.

Dec 15, 2012 2:11pm EST  --  Report as abuse
dmanning wrote:
I am glad Washington is at least taking a moratorium on public pronouncements about the fiscal cliff talks at a time like this. Hopefully there are communications occurring behind the scenes on a possible deal.

I’m not being sarcastic about this, but one thing in the “negotiations” I truly don’t understand, is that Republicans say the problem is spending. Spending is the issue, we have a spending problem. Boehner has repeated it several times this week. But they haven’t proposed any cuts. Where are there spending cuts? They keep saying the President isn’t serious about spending, but they offer no cuts, no trims, no savings. The largest proposal they’ve offered during this entire month and a half standoff is a three pages of a long diatribe dusted with a couple of bullet points of vague “savings”.

If they want the cuts, then they should propose them. I don’t understand why, if this is so important to them, they aren’t listing them.

Dec 15, 2012 3:19pm EST  --  Report as abuse
foiegras wrote:
Tax cuts do not create jobs. The tax increases (when the Bush tax cuts expire) are not “massive”. Significant reductions in government spending have already been passed (in the Affordable Care Act for example – significant Medicare cuts) and the administration is willing to negotiate more cuts.

But you can’t negotiate with yourself. It’s going to take more than the GOP’s empty party line: “No leadership..”, “Not serious about spending…”, “Protect Social Security and Medicare for future generations…” to find a solution. Is there anybody in America that takes this bankrupt rhetoric seriously at this point, a week before Christmas? The answer is yes. Plenty of Americans – real people – are all for it. That’s why it’s happening.

Dec 15, 2012 5:48pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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