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No one retreating; cliff talks seem at standstill

Published December 10, 2012 6:00 pm

Negotiations • A day after meeting, leaders on both sides express mounting frustration.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • A year-end deadline approaching, negotiations to avoid an economy-rattling fiscal cliff appeared at a standstill Monday. Republicans pressed President Barack Obama to name specific spending cuts he will support, while the White House insisted the GOP agree explicitly to raise tax rates on upper incomes.

At a campaign-style event in Michigan, Obama warned his listeners their taxes will rise on Jan. 1 without action by the Congress. "That's a hit you can't afford to take," he declared.

He spoke one day after meeting privately at the White House with House Speaker John Boehner, whose office expressed frustration with the talks to date.

"We continue to wait for the president to identify the spending cuts he's willing to make as part of the 'balanced' approach he promised the American people,'" said a written statement from the Ohio Republican's office.

The negotiations are designed to prevent across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to begin at the turn of the year, a combination that economists say poses the threat of a new recession.

While leaders in both parties say they are eager to avoid that cliff, negotiations on a plan to cut deficits by other measures have turned into a major postelection showdown between opposing sides in a divided government.

Many Republicans agree that Obama and the Democrats hold most of the political leverage, given the president's re-election more than a month ago after a campaign in which he said the wealthy should pay more in taxes. Obama spoke by phone Monday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., while traveling aboard Air Force One, according to a Democratic aide. The aide was not authorized to speak publicly about the private conversation and thus spoke on condition of anonymity.

If anything, the president has toughened his demands in recent days, insisting not only that tax rates must rise, but also that Congress give him and future presidents the authority to raise the government's borrowing limit without prior approval by lawmakers.

Boehner, while claiming his own election mandate for the Republican majority in the House, said within a few days of the voting he was prepared to buck many in his party and support additional tax revenue as part of a fiscal cliff agreement.

The Ohio Republican has said repeatedly he opposes Obama's plan to raise tax rates for anyone, adding that he prefers to raise revenue by closing loopholes. Yet he has not yet ruled out giving the president his way, and some Republicans have said they are prepared to do so — encouraging Democrats to say they anticipate the speaker will eventually yield on the point.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters as Obama went to Michigan that "the president believes that a deal is possible. It requires acceptance and acknowledgement in a concrete way by Republicans that the top 2 percent will see an increase in their rates."

In his remarks at the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant, Obama said the Democrats would "make some tough spending cuts on things that we don't need" as part of his budget plans, although he didn't mention any of them by name.

Republicans have increasingly expressed frustration in recent days as they accuse Obama and the Democrats of failing to talk in specifics when it comes to spending cuts that many of their constituencies are likely to balk at.

In talks that ended in failure 18 months ago, according to aides in both political parties, Obama had tentatively agreed to a proposal to raise the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67 beginning in a decade, and had also said he would accept a change to slow the annual cost-of-living increases that go to recipients of Social Security and other federal benefits.

This time, the two sides have advanced opening proposals that are short of specifics and reflect different priorities.

Obama's plan would raise $1.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years, in part by raising tax rates on incomes over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.

He has recommended $400 billion in spending cuts over a decade.

He also is seeking extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut due to expire on Jan. 1, a continuation in long-term unemployment benefits and steps to help hard-pressed homeowners and doctors who treat Medicate patients.

Boehner's plan, in addition to calling for $800 billion in new revenue, envisions $600 billion in savings over a decade from Medicare, Medicaid and other government health programs as well as $300 billion from other benefit programs and another $300 billion from other domestic programs.

It would trim annual increases in Social Security payments to beneficiaries, and it calls for gradually raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67, beginning in a decade. Americans clearly want Washington to solve its looming budget crisis, and they clearly reject almost every option to do that, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.

The only option that voters endorse, by a ratio of 3-to-2, is to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Other poll findings include:

Concerns • 78 percent of registered voters say they're concerned about the cliff, and 75 percent say the government needs to compromise rather than stand on principles.

Bush tax cuts • 74 percent oppose letting the Bush tax cuts expire on all income levels.

Payroll tax cut • 74 percent oppose letting Social Security payroll tax cut expire as scheduled by the end of the month.

Medicare • 59 percent oppose raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67. And 74 percent oppose cutting overall spending.

Medicaid • 70 percent oppose cutting spending for Medicaid.

Blame • If a deal falls through, 47 percent said they'd blame congressional Republicans, 36 percent said they'd blame Obama, 11 percent said they'd blame both and 6 percent were not sure.

­McClatchy Newspapers