Speaker John A. Boehner offered the glibbest assessment of the fiscal cliff negotiations yet, telling reporters Friday that talks are at a stalemate after Republicans rejected an opening offer from the White House.
Still, Boehner did not shut down the idea that talks will continue between himself and the president. The Ohio Republican demurred when asked if further conversations are scheduled but noted that ideas have been passed back and forth.
“There are a lot of ideas that have been put on the table. We’ve had conversations, and I’m sure we’ll continue to have conversations,” he said.
At the same time, Boehner is showing no indication he or other Republicans will make any move to show a counteroffer, which key Democrats are pressing him to do.
In an impromptu press conference to counter President Barack Obama’s rally in Pennsylvania, organized to drum up public support for a tax hike on high-income earners, a visibly frustrated Boehner was asked to give his candid assessment of the playing field.
“There’s a stalemate. Let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. The White House’s opening salvo, he continued, is “not a serious proposal. And so, right now, we’re almost nowhere.”
Earlier in the day, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., defended the White House offer and urged Republicans to concede ground on increasing taxes before the discussions move to new spending cuts.
At one point agreeing with a reporter’s characterization of the White House offer as a Democratic “wish list,” Hoyer said the GOP should respond with a detailed counteroffer of its own.
On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner offered Republicans a package of $1.6 trillion in tax increases, including increases in estate and capital gains taxes, $50 billion in stimulus spending, a permanent raising of the debt ceiling, a one-year deferral of sequestration spending cuts and $400 billion in future entitlement cuts to be decided on in the next Congress.
“I don’t think it’s a take-it-or-leave-it offer,” Hoyer said.
The comments portend a rough road ahead for negotiations, as neither Republicans nor Democrats are showing any give in a deal to avert $500 billion in spending cuts and tax increases slated to take effect early next year.
Boehner said that Obama would rather campaign in public than try to come up with a deal in private and that, “simply put, this is why we don’t have a deal yet.”
“The White House took three weeks to respond with any kind of proposal and, much to my dismay, it wasn’t a serious one. Still, I’m willing to move forward in good faith,” he said.
While Republicans summarily rejected Thursday’s offer by Geithner, at the campaign-style rally in Pennsylvania on Friday the president showed no signs of giving way.
“In Washington, nothing’s easy, so there is going to be some prolonged negotiations, and all of us are going to have to get out of our comfort zones to make that happen,” he said. “I’m willing to do that. I’m hopeful that enough members of Congress in both parties are willing to do that as well.”
Hoyer said Democrats’ negotiating strategy is based on scars from previous battles in which both parties negotiated over spending cuts only to see Republicans walk out on the talks when the discussion turned to increasing taxes.
“What the Republicans want is, they want give on their stuff first. There’s no give on taxes, revenues, none,” he said.
Hoyer described the GOP strategy as “’Lets bargain. How about cutting this?’ ‘OK.’ ‘How about cutting this?’ ‘OK.’ ‘How about cutting this?’ ‘OK.’ And then you say to me, ‘Well, now, how about we raise revenues here?’ ‘We’re not going to talk about that. We’re going to walk out of the room.’ That’s what [House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.] did. That’s essentially what Boehner did.”
While Boehner has offered to increase revenues by cutting tax deductions and loopholes, Hoyer said such ideas wouldn’t bring in sufficient revenue to the scale of federal deficits. If such a plan could work, Hoyer said, Republicans should demonstrate a detailed version of one to prove it.
“The Republicans need to come back with something where the math works,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer also endorsed the president’s plan on legislatively ending the need to raise the debt ceiling. “It’s a phony vote. It’s a charade,” Hoyer said, adding that both parties had abused debt ceiling increases for partisan purposes.