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GOP Bends on Taxes as Fiscal Cliff Talks Begin

Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
Obama and congressional leaders of both parties met Friday to discuss deficit reduction before tax increases and automatic spending cuts go into effect next year.

The four top leaders in Congress all expressed confidence that they could avert the fiscal cliff after Speaker John A. Boehner offered up revenue and Democrats agreed to pursue spending cuts during an hourlong meeting Friday at the White House.

The Ohio Republican told reporters that he proposed a framework for dealing with the cliff that would tie revenue to spending cuts “consistent with the president’s call for a balanced approach.”

“I believe that we can do this and avert this fiscal cliff,” Boehner told reporters outside the White House. He was flanked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

All of the leaders made similar comments.

“We’re prepared to put revenue on the table as long as we solve the real problem,” McConnell said, pointing to growing entitlement spending.

“I feel confident that a solution may be in sight,” Pelosi said. She added that they hope to reach a deal before Christmas and suggested during the meeting that they lay out benchmarks for the size of the deal and deadlines before then to build public confidence that the cliff would be averted.

According to a Boehner aide, the speaker suggested that the leaders agree on long-term revenue targets for tax reform and spending targets for entitlement reform as well as enforcement mechanisms that would kick in if Congress fails to act on either next year.

“They would be in place unless or until more thoughtful policies replace them,” the aide said.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also issued a statement calling the meeting “constructive.”

The leaders “agreed to do everything possible to find a solution” and find a “balanced approach” including revenue and cuts while encouraging growth.

“Both sides agreed that while there may be differences in our preferred approaches, we will continue a constructive process to find a solution and come to a conclusion as soon as possible,” Carney said.

Talks will continue among staff and lawmakers over the Thanksgiving break. Leaders are expected to reconvene the following week.

After returning to the Capitol, Reid said he planned to have more talks with key players in coming days. “It was a good meeting. There was no harsh words. There was a general feeling that we need to get something done, and both sides are going to have to give,” Reid said.

President Barack Obama at the start of the meeting called on the group to come together to avert the cliff.

“I want to welcome the congressional leadership here and thank them for their time,” Obama said at the top of the meeting in the Roosevelt Room. “I think we’re all aware that we have some urgent business to do. We’ve got to make sure that taxes don’t go up on middle-class families, that our economy remains strong. That’s an agenda that Democrats and Republicans and independents, people all across the country share. So our challenge is to make sure that we are able to cooperate together work together find some common ground, make some tough compromises build some consensus to do the people’s business.”

Obama also wished Boehner — who turns 63 tomorrow — a happy birthday.

“We’re not going to embarrass him with a cake because we didn’t know how many candles were needed.” the president quipped.

“Yeah, right,” Boehner said with a smile. The two men, seated next to each other, then shook hands.

Obama did not sing happy birthday, nor the semifamous “Boehner Birthday song,” which can be found on YouTube.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, White House Chief of Staff Jacob J. Lew and economic adviser Gene Sperling also attended the meeting.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers were renewing their push for a comprehensive deficit reduction deal in hopes of giving congressional leaders political space to make hard compromises.

Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., is seeking signatures on a letter to party leaders that calls for $4 trillion in deficit reduction, derived from new revenue and spending cuts, including to entitlement programs. He held a meeting Friday morning to begin building support.

“Everything is on the table,” Shuler said. “We should be able to send a really strong message to our leaders to let them know to come up with a really large deal and that we’ll have their back.”

Shuler signaled he was seeking to replicate the coalition of 100 bipartisan lawmakers that signed a letter last November urging members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to craft a $4 trillion deficit reduction package over a decade. Shuler said 18 lawmakers attended the meeting and that he was just beginning to collect signatures.

“We all want to go big and we all want to do this right the first time,” Shuler said. “The thing we don’t want to do is do something small or kick the can down the road.”

Republican Reps. Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio and Mike Simpson of Idaho, who were involved in last year’s ‘go big’ push, were also spotted leaving the meeting. LaTourrette and Shuler are retiring at the end of this Congress.

On Wall Street, stocks rallied, but bonds were down, in the initial reaction to leaders’ optimism about reaching a deal on the fiscal cliff.

Alan Ota and Ben Weyl contributed to this report.

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