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"No Progress," but Boehner Hedges on Tax Stance

"No Progress," but Boehner Hedges on Tax Stance

By Caitlin Huey-Burns and Alexis Simendinger - December 8, 2012

John Boehner said Friday that “no progress” had been made in resolving the fiscal cliff crisis after another week without face time between himself and President Obama.

But the House speaker appeared to soften the oft-repeated GOP opposition to raising marginal tax rates on the nation’s highest income earners, which is a prominent administration demand.

At a brief news conference, Boehner was asked if he could budge on the rates if they were pegged to a higher income threshold -- above $250,000 -- in order to protect small businesses. He let that idea hang in the air.

“There are a lot of things that are possible to put the revenue that the president seeks on the table,” he replied. He urged Obama, with whom he spoke by phone during the week, to make a move.

“But none of it's going to be possible if the president insists on his position, insists on my way or the highway. That's not the way to get to an agreement that I think is important for the American people and very important for our economy.”

Boehner’s staff later clarified that the Ohio congressman remains opposed to raising taxes. But a middle way seemed to take shape if enough House Republicans would vote to raise rates while Democrats agreed to higher income thresholds, and the precise rates were subsequently negotiated.

Vice President Biden dangled that concept publicly when he told reporters Friday: “We are prepared and the president has made it clear . . . the top brackets have to go up -- this is not a negotiable issue. Theoretically we can negotiate how far up. But we think . . . the top rate should go up to 39.6 percent. . . . Every serious economist I’ve spoken to -- left, right and center -- knows there has to be [new] revenue.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi met with Obama for 40 minutes at the White House on Friday afternoon to discuss “a number of issues,” according to aides in her office and at the White House.

The visit, which her staff said had been planned for days, came as news reports indicated the president and Boehner agreed to limit further talks to themselves only rather than include leaders from both parties and both chambers.

Pelosi told reporters Friday before her discussions at the White House that she had been “very satisfied” with conversations with Obama up to that point.

“The president knows our views; he shares our values. We feel confident in any negotiation that he takes the lead in,” she said.

Asked whether Democrats were wed to the proposed Clinton-era marginal tax rate of 39.6 percent on the top 2 percent of earners, which would impact families making $250,000 or more, Pelosi said the goal was the amount of revenues generated. She said she was unsure if other rates or brackets would generate sufficient revenue to stabilize the debt in a decade.

In January, marginal tax rates are scheduled to go up for all income levels. Obama wants to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class but not couples earning $250,000 or more. Other Democratic lawmakers representing states with high costs of living and wealthy constituents would like to move that threshold to $500,000 or more annually.

Although the speaker accused Democrats of slow-walking negotiations, the country’s top Republican effectively heightened the time crunch by ending the House workweek on Wednesday and sending lawmakers home.

House Republicans acknowledge they are being squeezed by the calendar, the White House, many in the business community, and public opinion.

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.

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