Neither side appears happy with speaker’s proposal
WASHINGTON – The effort to resolve the standoff over federal spending and taxes snagged once again Tuesday – just a day after House Speaker John A. Boehner and President Barack Obama appeared to make substantial progress – as Boehner abruptly shifted to what he termed “Plan B.”
The speaker’s new proposal calls on the House to vote on a measure that would prevent taxes from going up except for those earning more than $1 million. The proposal drew opposition from the White House and Senate Democrats as well as from some House conservatives.
The speaker made clear that he is not cutting off talks with Obama, but Democrats characterized Boehner as walking away just as compromise appeared within reach.
Earlier this week, Obama made what White House aides saw as a substantial concession by telling Boehner that he would accept an agreement raising taxes on household income above $400,000, rather than the $250,000 threshold he had previously insisted on. He also proposed changes to reduce the long-term cost of government benefit programs, including Social Security.
“It’s a Charlie Brown episode,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., casting Boehner in the role of Lucy pulling away the football.
“Everyone should understand Boehner’s proposal will not pass the Senate,” Reid added.
The negotiations are aimed at heading off tax increases for almost everyone Jan. 1 and steep cuts in government spending that are scheduled to begin the next day. Boehner has had the difficult task of negotiating in two directions, seeking a deal that would meet Obama’s insistence that taxes rise for high-income Americans but still be acceptable to Republicans in the House who oppose any tax increases.
The speaker’s latest move seemed to please neither side.
Conservatives want more spending cuts, but not the massive automatic reductions scheduled to take effect next year. Boehner’s Plan B would keep those automatic cuts in place.
By bringing his Plan B to a vote, possibly as soon as Thursday, the speaker could get an early read on how many Republicans would be willing to vote for any tax increase. He may also hope to deflect attention from his talks with the White House.
Under Boehner’s plan, the top income tax rate, now 35 percent, would rise to 39.6 percent on income above $1 million. The plan would also hike tax rates on capital gains and dividends to 20 percent from the current 15 percent for those high-income households.
Obama’s latest offer also would set capital gains and dividend tax rates at 20 percent, with that rate kicking in at $250,000.
Boehner also would schedule a vote on Obama’s original proposal to keep tax rates the same for the first $250,000 of income for families and $200,000 for individuals, but raise rates on income above that level. That proposal would not be expected to pass the House.