Obama’s ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Proposal: $1.6 Trillion in Tax Increases
The White House is seeking $1.6 trillion in tax increases up front, as well as $50 billion in additional stimulus spending, as part of any "fiscal cliff" deal, Republican aides said Thursday, as talks aimed at averting the economy-rattling cliff turned testy.
President Barack Obama also wants a permanent increase in the federal debt ceiling, a one-year expansion of jobless benefits, and an extension of the payroll tax credit, these aides said.
The latest proposals were presented by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who visited Capitol Hill Thursday to discuss the so-called fiscal cliff with leaders of both parties.
After Geithner's visit, Republican House Speaker John Boehner publicly lambasted the Obama administration, saying "the White House has to get serious."
Boehner added, "No substantive progress has been made between the White House and the House" in the two weeks since Obama welcomed congressional leaders at the White House.
"I was hopeful we'd see a specific plan for cutting spending," he said, but added that he "remained hopeful" a deal can be reached before the Dec. 31 deadline. "Jobs are on the line, the American economy is on the line, and this is a moment for adult leadership," Boehner added.
The White House proposals are almost exactly what was in the president's budget proposal last February, Republican aides said.
Democrats swiftly countered that any holdup was the fault of Republicans who refuse to accept Obama's campaign-long call to raise tax rates on upper incomes.
At the White House, presidential Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "There can be no deal without rates on top earners going up." Taking a confrontational, at times sarcastic tone, he said, "This should not be news to anyone on Capitol Hill. It is certainly not news to anyone in America who was not in a coma during the campaign season."
With barely a month remaining until a year-end deadline, the hardening of positions seemed more likely to mark a transition into hard bargaining rather than signal an end to efforts to achieve a compromise on the first post-election challenge of divided government.
Boehner suggested as much when one reporter asked if his comments meant he was breaking off talks with the White House and congressional Democrats.
"No, no, no. Stop," he quickly answered.
The plan calls for $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue over the coming decade, extending the 2 percentage point payroll tax deduction or something comparable to it, and $50 billion in stimulus spending on infrastructure projects.
The White House seeks $960 billion over the coming decade by increasing tax rates and taxes on investment income on upper-bracket earners, and $600 billion in additional taxes.
The only new spending cuts in the plan would come from administration proposals curbing health-care programs by $400 billion over the coming decade and modest cuts from non-health programs like farm subsidies and cutting Postal Service costs and through higher fees on airline tickets.
The plan would also boost spending by extending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, deferring looming cuts to Medicare payments to physicians, and helping homeowners refinance "underwater" mortgages.
Geithner also requested the equivalent of a permanent extension of the government's borrowing ability to avoid wrangling over the issue as in last year's summertime crisis over raising the so-called debt limit.
The measure would block $109 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as a sequester from striking the economy in January.
A senior Capitol Hill Democratic aide confirmed that the GOP description of the Geithner proposal is consistent with the latest Democratic position. The aide was not authorized to discuss the proposal publicly and would do so only on condition of anonymity.
Thursday's negotiating sessions appeared to show little progress toward a deal, which would prevent more than $500 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts from taking effect on Jan. 1. It's feared that a tumble down the "fiscal cliff" will throw the country back into recession.
New York Fed President William Dudley highlighted the problems that lawmakers are causing for both hiring and the economy with each day they fail to strike a deal to avoid a pending fiscal crisis. Dudley warned that, if it is not addressed, the economic contraction is likely to be larger than normal because interest rates are so low.
Stocks declined after Boehner's statement, but later rose.
"I think unfortunately it seems pretty clear that the market is trading very much off the reading of the tea leaves on how these fiscal cliff negotiations are going," said Eric Kuby, chief investment officer at North Star Investment Management in Chicago. "I think we're hostage to this for the rest of the year."
Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also offered a pessimistic take following his separate meeting with Geithner.
"To date, the administration has remained focused on raising taxes and attending campaign-style events, with no specific plans to protect Medicare and Social Security or reduce our national debt in a meaningful way," McConnell said in a statement. "And today, they took a step backward, moving away from consensus and significantly closer to the cliff."
President Obama and Boehner conferred by phone for 15 minutes Wednesday night, their first one-on-one discussion in five days, amid increasing anxiety that the White House and top Republicans are wasting time needed to negotiate a way out of the crisis.
Geithner met first with Reid, then headed to a session with Republican leaders of the House, including Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, fresh off his Republican vice presidential campaign.
There has been little evident progress in negotiations between the two sides. Republicans complain that the White House is slow-walking the talks and has yet to provide specifics on how Obama would curb the rapid growth of benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
"We have not seen any good-faith effort on the part of this administration to talk about the real problem that we're trying to fix," Cantor said.
Obama is mounting a public campaign to build support and leverage in the negotiations, appearing at the White House with middle-class taxpayers and launching a campaign on Twitter to bolster his position.