Obama tries to rescue fiscal talks for post-Christmas deal

WASHINGTON Sat Dec 22, 2012 12:45pm EST

1 of 3. U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the fiscal cliff at the White House in Washington December 21, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Friday tried to rescue stalled talks on a fiscal crisis after a Republican plan imploded in Congress, but there was little headway as lawmakers and President Barack Obama abandoned Washington for Christmas.

In remarks before flying to Hawaii for a break, Obama suggested reaching a short-term deal on taxes and extending unemployment insurance to avoid the worst effects of the "fiscal cliff" on ordinary Americans at the start of the New Year.

"We've only got 10 days to do it. So I hope that every member of Congress is thinking about that. Nobody can get 100 percent of what they want," said Obama.

Obama said he wanted to sign legislation extending Bush-era tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans in the coming days.

The Democrat appeared to be offering bickering lawmakers a way to fix the most pressing challenge - tax cuts that expire soon - while leaving thorny topics such as automatic spending cuts or extending the debt ceiling for later.

Obama called on lawmakers to use the holiday break to cool off frayed nerves, "drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies, sing some Christmas carols," and come back next week ready to make a deal.

Negotiations were thrown into disarray on Thursday when House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner failed to convince his fellow Republicans to accept tax cuts for even the wealthiest of Americans as part of a possible agreement with Obama.

"How we get there, God only knows," Boehner told reporters on Friday when asked about a possible comprehensive fiscal cliff solution.

If there is no agreement, taxes would go up on all Americans and hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic government spending cuts would kick in next month - actions that could plunge the U.S. economy back into recession.

Obama spoke to Boehner on Friday and held a face-to-face White House meeting with the top Democrat in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Before his defeat in Congress, Boehner had extracted a compromise from Obama to raise taxes on Americans making more than $400,000 a year, instead of the president's preference of those with income of $250,000 a year.

But with talks stalled on the level of spending cuts to which Obama would agree, Boehner attempted a backup plan to raise taxes only on those making more than $1 million a year - amounting to just 0.18 percent of Americans.

BAD DEFEAT FOR BOEHNER

Boehner's reverse in the House was worse than first thought. A key Republican lawmaker said Boehner scrapped the vote when he realized that between 40 and 50 of the 241 Republicans in the House would not back him.

Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress are insisting that the wealthiest Americans pay more in taxes in order to help reduce federal budget deficits and avoid deep spending cuts. Republicans control the House and Democrats control the Senate.

Stocks dropped sharply early Friday on fears that the United States could go fall back into recession if politicians do not prevent it.

But major indexes lost less than 1 percent, suggesting investors still held out hope that an agreement will be brokered in Washington.

"I think if you get into mid-January and (the talks) keep going like this, you get worried, but I don't think we're going to get there," said Mark Lehmann, president of JMP Securities, in San Francisco.

Boehner, joined by his No. 2, Eric Cantor, at a Capitol Hill news conference, said the ultimate fault rests with Obama for refusing to agree to more spending reductions that would bring down America's $1 trillion annual deficit and rising $16 trillion debt.

"What the president has proposed so far simply won't do anything to solve our spending problem. He wants more spending and more tax hikes that will hurt our economy," Boehner said.

Democrats responded with incredulity.

House members, heading to their home states for the holidays, were instructed to be available on 48 hours notice if necessary.

"They went from 'Plan B' to 'plan see-you-later,'" Obama adviser David Axelrod said on MSNBC on Friday morning.

The crumbling of Boehner's plan highlights his struggle to lead some House Republicans who flatly reject any deal that would increase taxes on anyone.

Republican Representative Tim Huelskamp criticized Boehner's handling of the negotiations, saying the speaker had "caved" to Obama opening the door to tax hikes. Huelskamp, a dissident first-term congressman from Kansas, said he was not willing to compromise on taxes even if they are coupled with cuts to government spending sought by conservatives.

Fiscal conservatives "are so frustrated that the leader in the House right now, the speaker, has been talking about tax increases. That's all he's been talking about," Huelskamp said on MSNBC on Friday morning.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Richard Cowan, Rachelle Younglai, Thomas Ferraro and Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Alistair Bell and Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (40)
js2012 wrote:
Obama had 4 years to solve the situation. He did nothing except make the situation worse with his mindless spending. Now he’s behaving as if he’s ‘rescuing’ it and Reuters parroting it as well. Is Reuters Obama’s official news agency?

Dec 21, 2012 9:59pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Wassup wrote:
After doing nothing for 4 years to address the “fiscal cliff” which lagged behind numerous vacations and junketts, it seems preposterous that Obama would put a 10 day deadline on addressing this sad issue while he jets off on his million dollar break to Hawaii to do absolutely nothing at all. The unmitigated nerve! Exactly what the 52% that elected him have empowered him to do for a few phones and the word “forward.”

Dec 21, 2012 10:25pm EST  --  Report as abuse
JoeObserver wrote:
Mr Obama shouldn’t abandon Washington for Christmas. Instead, he should work out Plan C , Plan D….

Dec 21, 2012 10:44pm 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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