Rhetoric flies as ‘fiscal cliff’ looms
House leader says talks going ‘nowhere, period’
WASHINGTON – Republicans have to stop using “political math” and say how much they are willing to raise tax rates on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans and then specify the spending cuts they want, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said in an interview that aired Sunday.
Just four weeks from the proverbial “fiscal cliff,” House Speaker John Boehner countered that Republicans have a plan for providing as much as $800 billion in new government revenue over the next decade and would consider the elimination of tax deductions on high-income earners. But when pressed on “Fox News Sunday” for precise details, the Ohio Republican declined to say.
There are “a lot of options in terms of how to get there,” he said.
Both Boehner’s and Geithner’s latest remarks indicate it could be some time before serious negotiations begin between the White House and Republicans on how to avert economic calamity expected in less than a month when President George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire and automatic spending cuts kick in.
Last week, the White House delivered to Capitol Hill its opening proposal: $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over a decade, hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending, a possible extension of the temporary Social Security payroll tax cut and enhancing the president’s power to raise the national debt limit.
In exchange, the president would back $600 billion in spending cuts, including $350 billion from Medicare and other health programs. But he also wants $200 billion in new spending for jobless benefits, public works projects and aid for struggling homeowners.
Republicans said they responded in closed-door meetings with laughter and disbelief.
“I was just flabbergasted,” Boehner said. “I looked at him (Geithner) and I said, ‘You can’t be serious.’ ” Boehner described negotiations as going “nowhere, period,” and said “there’s clearly a chance” the nation will go over the cliff.
Geithner, the administration’s point man for negotiations, was slightly more optimistic while saying the ball was in Boehner’s court. But the treasury secretary also said he didn’t expect a counteroffer right away, as Republicans work to sort out tensions within the party in the wake of bruising national elections.
Boehner acknowledged in his interview, aired Sunday, that he wasn’t happy with public remarks by Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who said he was ready to go along with Obama’s plan to renew expiring income tax cuts for most Americans and negotiate rates on top earners later.
“They’re trying to figure out where they go next,” Geithner said of Republicans, “and we might need to give them a little time to figure out where they go next.”
He called the back-and-forth “normal political theater,” saying all that’s blocking a timely deal is the GOP’s reluctance to accept higher tax rates on the wealthy.
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