WASHINGTON: The most powerful Republican in Congress gave a bleak outlook on Wednesday for his tense negotiations with President Barack Obama on a deal to stop economy-damaging austerity measures from kicking in Jan.1, saying, “the president and I had a pretty frank conversation about just how far apart we are.”
House Speaker John Boehner spoke a day after a pair of phone conversations with the president, telling reporters that “we’ve got some serious differences.”
“Let’s be honest. We’re broke,” Boehner said on Tuesday.
“The plan we offered is consistent with the president’s call for a balanced approach.”
White House detailed numerous proposals Obama has made to cut spending, including recommendations to cull $340 billion from Medicare, the government program that provides health care to the elderly, over a decade and an additional $250 billion from other government benefit programs.
Boehner’s office took the step — unusual in secretive talks — of announcing on Tuesday that Republicans “sent the White House a counteroffer that would achieve tax and entitlement reform to solve our looming debt crisis and create more American jobs.”
Little progress has been reported in their negotiations with less than three weeks before the deadline, despite a secretive exchange of proposals. Frustration was rising on Wednesday. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor raised the possibility of Congress being in session through the Christmas holiday.
“Let’s do something now,” Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told CBS, saying a bipartisan deal to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” is more likely if Democrats and Republicans don’t try to over-reach on spending cuts. She urged an agreement on a provisional plan for taxes and spending.
“Get it done,” Pelosi said, “and make corrections and expansions on it next year.”
Democrats have watched with satisfaction in recent days as Republicans struggle with Obama’s demands to raise taxes, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has privately told his rank and file they could soon be feeling the same distress if discussions grow serious on cuts to benefit programmes.
Obama’s plan would raise revenue over 10 years, in part by raising tax rates on incomes over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.