But perhaps the most important development Tuesday was the subtle way some GOP leaders hinted that they may be looking to gain leverage over the White House by caving on tax rates now. Though GOP members state their opposition to tax hikes, they pointed to a growing consensus within the party that the president has leverage over them because of November’s election results and the tax rates’ Dec. 31 expiration. The thinking is that if Republicans wave the white flag on taxes now, they could take up the armory again in 2013 when the government hits its debt limit.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seemed to indicate he believed this, too.
“What the president’s trying to achieve on the top two tax rates, you know, he can get by doing nothing. The law is certainly stacked in his favor,” he told reporters.
“Tax reform, obviously, can’t be done between now and the end of the year. I believe we have a bipartisan view that — that after 25 years, it’s time for tax reform again, but that’s going to take a while,” McConnell said, before adding of a larger debt deal, “We now have another opportunity here at the end of the year to try to engage that discussion again. We’ll have another opportunity later when the debt ceiling issue arrives. ... You’d think this whole discussion was about nothing other than raising the top two tax rates.”
On the House Republican side, top members were skeptical about the progress of talks with the White House.
“I think the president keeps changing what he’s asking for, so [I feel] less confident,” Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters, when asked whether he is more or less confident.
It could take time to ink out the legislative language of any agreement, not to mention the 72 hours the House GOP’s rules dictate bills must be posted on the Internet for public review.
Reid had a similar message, but a different scapegoat.
“Until we hear something from Republicans, there’s nothing to draft,” the Nevada Democrat said.
And White House Press Secretary Jay Carney rebuffed Boehner’s repeated calls Tuesday for Obama to offer up specific new cuts to entitlement programs, suggesting that the GOP should make specific suggestions first.
But Carney perhaps summed up what every party at the negotiating table has been attempting to do. After earlier saying he would “neither confirm nor deny” progress, or lack thereof, in the talks, Carney said, “I’m trying to be incredibly opaque.”
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