House Speaker John Boehner is under pressure to defy Republican Party orthodoxy on income taxes to rein in the U.S. deficit, with an increasing number of his rank- and-file members saying they’re willing to discuss raising rates for top earners.
A few dozen Republicans have joined a bipartisan call to consider “all options” on taxes and entitlement programs, signaling they are ready to bargain on President Barack Obama’s main condition for a budget deal this month: a tax rate increase for the top 2 percent of U.S. earners.
“We’re at a fork in the road,” said former New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican. Obama and Boehner need to realize “they have to get in a room and work out a deal,” he said, or positions will “start to harden and both sides to some degree are going to be willing to accept going over the cliff.”
The adage in Washington is that if nobody is talking about what they’re really talking about, that’s a good sign for getting a deal.
In what may be just such a positive sign, President Barack Obama, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and their aides on Thursday seemed to be zipping their lips on the behind-the-scenes fiscal cliff talks after a private Wednesday phone call between the two men. Of course, both sides also continued their public relations fight over debt and taxes.
“Lines of communication are open,” one House GOP leadership aide said.
Consider the Grand Bargain negotiating track. After laughing at President Obama’s offer, Republicans made a counteroffer, of sorts, the other day. One problem with the budget plan put forward by John Boehner is that it’s not a plan, just a sketchy bunch of topline numbers that doesn’t do any of the work of explaining where the higher revenue or lower spending will actually come from. Another problem is that even the sketchy outline has provoked howls of outrage from the right and probably couldn’t pass the House, even without putting any meat on its bones.
So the Grand Bargain track has gotten nowhere. By contrast, the mean, nasty partisan confrontation track is making steady progress. This alternate theory says that if Obama must force Republicans to accept the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for the rich before any deal can happen. And slowly but surely, Republicans are congealing around the recognition that they’ll have to accept the expiration of those tax cuts.
Right now, he is hoping to lead his fractious GOP to an orderly surrender. The question is no longer whether Republicans will give on taxes; they already have. All that remains to be negotiated is how they will increase taxes, and whether they will do it before or after the government reaches the “fiscal cliff.” …
Earlier in the week, Boehner offered Obama an $800 billion tax increase with the blessing of Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Republicans’ vice-presidential nominee this year, and other House leaders. The speaker is trying to hold out for making those hikes come from fewer deductions rather than higher rates, but the White House is feeling so confident that it dismissed Boehner’s offer out of hand. Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer told Peter Baker of the New York Times that Obama “won’t sign a deal that doesn’t have higher rates for the wealthy. Until they cross that bridge, nothing else is relevant.”
Republicans are looking for face-saving ways to retreat, such as allowing a tax increase to pass the House by voting “present” instead of “no.” Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), the outgoing chairman of the House GOP conference, acknowledged Wednesday on CNN that “the president is going to get his revenue one way or the other.”
SEN. RAND PAUL: I have yet another thought on how we can fix this. Why don’t we let the Democrats pass whatever they want? If they are the party of higher taxes, all the Republicans vote present and let the Democrats raise taxes as high as they want to raise them, let Democrats in the Senate raise taxes, let the president sign it and then make them own the tax increase. And when the economy stalls, when the economy sputters, when people lose their jobs, they know which party to blame, the party of high taxes. Let’s don’t be the party of just almost as high taxes. …I will announce tonight on your show that I will work with Harry Reid to let him pass his big old tax hike with a simple majority if that’s what Harry Reid wants, because then they will become the party of high taxes and they can own it.
Reporters: Why is he afraid to put the President’s plan on the floor. Do you think you have democratic support?
Carney: We know that, and the filibuster is certainly an issue here, that we don’t have 60 votes in the Senate. So, I would not argue with the idea that the President’s proposal cannot at this time, or has not at this time, garnered Republican support. That’s what this debate is about. We are very confident that the Democrats support the principle that we need to have $1.6 trillion in revenue, asking the wealthy to pay more as part of a balanced package that the President has put forward. I understand that you’re going along with the gamesmanship here. We’re trying to be serious about these negotiations. We have put forward a proposal. We have seen no substantive proposal, especially on revenues, from the Republicans.
Let’s understand President Obama’s strategy in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. It has nothing to do with economics or real fiscal reform. This is entirely about politics. It’s Phase Two of the 2012 campaign. The election returned him to office. The fiscal-cliff negotiations are designed to break the Republican opposition and grant him political supremacy, something he thinks he earned with his landslide 2.8-point victory margin on Election Day. …
What’s going on here? Having taken Boehner’s sword, and then his shirt, Obama sent Geithner to demand Boehner’s trousers. Perhaps this is what Obama means by a balanced approach. …
Such nonsense abounds because Obama’s objective in these negotiations is not economic but political: not to solve the debt crisis but to fracture the Republican majority in the House. Get Boehner to cave, pass the tax hike with Democratic votes provided by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and let the Republican civil war begin.
At House Speaker John A. Boehner’s request, Senate leaders and Representative Nancy Pelosi have been excluded from talks to avert a fiscal crisis, leaving it to Mr. Boehner and President Obama alone to find a deal, Congressional aides say.
All sides, even the parties excluded, say clearing the negotiating room improves the chance of success. It adds complexity as the two negotiators consult separately with the leaders not in the room. But it also minimizes the number of people who need to say yes to an initial agreement.
“This is now the speaker and the president working this through,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.
White House aides and the speaker’s staff, by mutual agreement, have largely shut down public communication about the talks to avert hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to begin in January if no deal can be reached. Both sides said on Thursday that lines of communication remained open.