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Obama, Boehner at Odds Over Budget Deal

Obama, Boehner at Odds Over Budget Deal

By Alexis Simendinger - December 19, 2012

Discussions in Washington to resolve the nation’s budget drama by a Dec. 31 deadline faltered Wednesday as President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner traded barbs in public.

“Take the deal,” Obama urged House Republicans.

“I hope the president will get serious soon,” Boehner responded from the Capitol.

During a 35-minute question-and-answer session with media in the White House briefing room, Obama said the two sides are just “a few hundred billion dollars” away from clinching a pact that he argued would stabilize the debt over a decade with a “balance” of higher revenues and potentially $2 trillion in long-term spending reductions.

The president dangled a possible new compromise that would lift the income threshold below which Americans could continue to receive lower tax rates enacted during the Bush years. Obama mentioned $700,000 or $800,000 as an example of a new threshold Republicans should be able to endorse. Republicans have given ground in their resistance to raise tax rates, conceding they would ask families earning over $1 million a year to pay more. The president had moved his position from $250,000 to $400,000 in the last few days, and many seasoned Washington observers had predicted he might eventually split the difference with Republicans at $500,000 in a final deal.

“I'm not going to get into specific negotiations here,” Obama said when asked if he meant to float a new offer. “My point is simply [that] . . . if you look at Speaker Boehner's proposal and you look at my proposal, they're actually pretty close.”

Obama said he was “puzzled” that Boehner -- who scheduled a House vote Thursday on a short-term alternative measure -- is herding his conference toward an alternative that lacks the votes to clear Congress and falls short of White House requirements for an acceptable budget deal. To devote energy to rounding up votes for a measure Democrats will reject, which fails to accomplish the deficit reduction and spending cuts the GOP seeks, and which the president will not sign, appeared to be a waste of limited time, Obama said.

“They're thinking about voting for raising taxes, at least on folks [earning] over a million [dollars], which they say they don't want to do, but they're going to reject spending cuts that they say they do want to do,” the president added. “That defies logic. There's no explanation for that.”

Within two hours, the speaker had a rejoinder from Capitol Hill, saying Republicans had gone as far as they could in backing higher tax rates, and were still waiting for Obama to embrace a “balanced approach.”

Boehner said, “Tomorrow, the House will pass legislation to make permanent tax relief for nearly every American -- 99.81 percent of the American people. Then the president will have a decision to make. He can call on the Senate Democrats to pass that bill, or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history.”

The Ohio congressman described his strategy for floor action Thursday as “Plan B.” Members of Boehner’s conference say the strategy is designed to offer conservatives who oppose raising tax rates a recorded vote they can defend to their constituents and to middle-income taxpayers -- even if it does not become law.

Obama -- who at the time he spoke with reporters had not directly negotiated with Boehner since Monday -- said he remained optimistic that political wariness among Republicans would abate long enough to encourage conservatives to embrace a budget deal that averts the so-called cliff and commits to supporting the “middle class” as well as the twin goals of stronger economic growth and deficit reduction.

The president assured Republicans that if they balked at the idea of cutting a deal with him in particular, the focus should instead turn to the economic goals they established in urging the administration to mop up red ink and reduce federal spending over the long haul.

“These guys have been fighting for spending cuts. They can get some very meaningful spending cuts,” he argued. “I'm going to reach out to all the leaders involved over the next couple of days and find out what is it that's holding this thing up. What is holding it up?” 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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