House Republicans on Wednesday urged President Barack Obama to take the lead in negotiations over the so-called fiscal cliff, as talks appear to have broken down.
“We can’t sit here and negotiate with ourselves,” House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) told reporters on Capitol Hill. “If the president doesn’t agree with our proposal and our outlines, I think he’s got an obligation to send one to Congress.”
Republican leaders were taken aback this week when the White House swiftly rejected a GOP offer based on a proposal outlined by Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chair of the president’s 2010 deficit commission.
The proposed framework included $800 billion in new revenue through tax reform—eliminating or capping deduction for wealthy earners—and was criticized by conservative lawmakers and pundits as too generous.
“What we put forward was by our estimates a very fair proposal, and by some conservative estimates was too fair,” said one House leadership aide. “We’re not excited about the revenue, but we know that we’re not getting everything we want. There’s no rational reason for Obama to reject it.”
Boehner issued a statement slamming Obama for “shifting the goal posts” by rejecting the “balanced approach” to deficit reduction he claims to want.
The House leadership aide said a deal to avert the fiscal cliff would be “fairly easy to do” if the president would stop changing his position “every 8 hours or so.”
“He is all over the map,” the aide said. “If we were negotiating with the Obama of six weeks ago, or six days ago, we might be able to get something done.”
Republican leaders scoffed last week at an opening proposal from the White House largely based on the president’s most recent budget, which was unanimously rejected by Democrats in both chambers of Congress.
“If you look at the plans that the White House has talked about thus far, they couldn’t pass either house of the Congress,” Boehner said Wednesday.
When Republicans attempted to bring the White House plan up for a vote in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) objected.
“If the president’s proposal was made in good faith, Democrats should be eager to vote for it,” the Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said. “So I’m surprised the majority leader just declined the chance for them to support it with their votes.”
Meanwhile, negotiations appear to have stalled.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) said, “nothing is going on” in terms of meetings with the White House because the president is unwilling to have “specific discussions” about cutting spending.
He later announced that the House would not formally adjourn “until a credible solution to the fiscal cliff has been found.”
The next 72 hours are “critical,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and provide “an opportunity for the president to lead.”
Boehner told reporters he would be “available at any moment to sit down with the president.”
He also dismissed the idea that Republicans were out of line with public opinion by refusing to raise tax rates on high earners.
“The revenues we’re putting on the table are going to come from—guess who? The rich,” Boehner said.
Obama has insisted that no deal is possible unless Republicans agree to raise revenue through higher tax rates.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the administration was “absolutely” willing to go over the fiscal cliff if Republicans refuse to cave on this issue.
“There’s no prospect in an agreement that doesn’t involve the rates going up on the top 2 percent of the wealthiest,” he said.
Other leading Democrats, such as Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), also suggested that raising tax rates on all Americans is preferable to keeping current rates in place for the wealthy.
GOP denounced such rhetoric as counterproductive.
“An obsession to raise taxes is not going to solve the problem,” Cantor said. “We can’t just keep borrowing money and raising taxes and expect the problem to go away.”
Aides dismissed rumors of a so-called GOP “doomsday plan,” whereby House Republicans would vote “present” on a bill to extend current tax rates on families earning less than $250,000 a year. It would essentially give Obama what he wants, but some argue that doing so would diminish his political leverage in future negotiations.
“I don’t understand where that’s coming from, we’re not planning for it at all,” one aide said. “That’s a gimmick. We’re working toward an actual solution.”
However, the aide acknowledged “things could change” as a deadline for a deal approaches, but added: “If [Obama] is waiting for us to cave [on tax rates] he’s going to be waiting for a long, long time.”