Republicans say they will not back down

Congressional leaders took a hard line on taxes ahead of a meeting Friday at the White House, with rank-and-file Republicans expressing opposition to a “fiscal cliff” deal that would bring in more revenue to the government.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said Republicans could accept new revenues, but not tax-rate hikes, as part of a broad deficit deal, but President Obama and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it was unlikely that eliminating loopholes and capping deductions could raise enough revenue to gain their support.

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Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, said Congress could not raise the approximately $1.5 to $1.6 trillion in revenue the president wants solely by scaling back deductions and loopholes, unless it violates Obama’s pledge not to increase the tax burden on the middle class.

“There’s not enough revenues if you just rely on that,” Schumer said of proposals that would only cap or eliminate tax deductions for the wealthy. “As an addition to money you gain by raising the top rate, yes, but otherwise not.”

The president, meanwhile, put the onus on Congress to avoid the tax hikes and spending cuts of the “fiscal cliff.” He pressured Republicans to pass a bill extending only the middle-class tax cuts, saying he would sign it immediately.

In a press conference late Wednesday, Boehner rejected Obama’s push for the House to pass a Senate bill that locks in the rates for income up to $250,000 per year.

“I think instead of the House moving on the Senate bill, the Senate ought to move on the House bill,” Boehner said, in a reference to a House-passed bill that extends all of the current tax rates for one year. Obama has threatened to veto that measure.

Still, Boehner said he remained optimistic ahead of the Friday meeting and declined to engage Democrats on their specific revenue demands. 

“If you look closely at what the president had to say and you look closely at what I had to say, there are no barriers here to sitting down and beginning to work through this process,” he said. “I don’t think anyone on either side of the aisle underestimates the difficulty that faces us.”

On revenues, the Speaker again refused to specify what he would be willing to accept. “There are ways to put revenues on the table without increasing tax rates,” he said.

The verbal volleys came as Republicans voiced new worries that Obama was slow-walking fiscal-cliff negotiations, perhaps in a bid to jam them into approving an extension of middle-class tax cuts against the year-end deadline.

“The president has now finished at least his third press conference on the matter but is still two days away from meeting with congressional leadership,” the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), said in a statement. “After that, he will leave for Southeast Asia, which will bring us to Thanksgiving. Time is running short, and, frankly, we don’t have time to waste on offers that are going nowhere.”

Earlier in the day, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) speculated that Obama was merely engaging in a “charade” that would end with him blaming Republicans for taking the country over the fiscal cliff.

“That looks to me like that might be his goal,” King said. “In the end, the president has a very strong hand. If he holds the line and vetoes everything and does nothing, he gets almost everything he wants.

“On the other side of this thing, it’s going to take a strong, strong coalition of conservatives to hold this together and keep any fiscal responsibility here,” King added. “A lot of this is just going to be a charade by the president just to find a way to blame it on Republicans.”

Obama reiterated on Wednesday that he would not sign a bill that extends the George W. Bush-era tax rates for the wealthy past Jan. 1.

Obama also pounced on suggestions from conservatives that revenue could be generated solely through economic growth as measured by “dynamic scoring,” a forecasting model that takes into account the positive effects of tax cuts and is generally not used by the Congressional Budget Office

King and a trio of other conservatives said they would be loath to accept new revenue in a deal, except through economic growth measured by dynamic scoring. And they were adamant that they would not vote for a plan that increased tax reform up front, as opposed to through tax reform that would not be completed until 2013.

“That is not going to fly, in my judgment, with any of us,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), outgoing chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

Not all conservatives adopted as hard a line.

Camp, the Ways and Means chairman, said it would “depend on the structure of the new deal” whether Republicans could accept new revenues immediately.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), the president of the GOP freshman class, said that in his view, “cutting spending is more important than not raising revenue.”

He said spending cuts in any deal must exceed the revenue raised. That standard is a far cry from the tone Republican presidential candidates took in 2011, when during a primary debate none said they would support an agreement that contained a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to new revenue.

— Alexander Bolton and Amie Parnes contributed.


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