'Disappointed' Boehner calls on Obama to get serious on spending in deficit talks

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday there had been “no substantive progress” in fiscal-cliff negotiations in the two weeks since congressional leaders met with President Obama.

Boehner, addressing reporters after a meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in the Capitol, called on the White House to “get serious” about the talks and warned of a “real danger” that Jan. 1 would come without a deal if President Obama did not offer up specific spending cuts he would be willing to accept.

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“Despite claims that the president supports a balanced approach, the Democrats have yet to get serious about real spending cuts,” Boehner said. “Secondly, no substantive progress has been made in the talks between the White House and the House in the last two weeks.

“Listen, this is not a game,” he added. “Jobs are on the line. The American economy is on the line, and this is a moment for adult leadership.”

The Speaker criticized the president for holding “campaign-style rallies” instead of engaging in serious talks.


Boehner’s comments on Thursday were by far his most pessimistic about the fiscal cliff in the three weeks since voters reelected Obama and kept Republicans in control of the House. Financial markets dropped as his press conference aired on cable networks.

The Speaker described his meeting with Geithner as “frank” and “direct,” but he said he came away disappointed both from that meeting and a phone call he had with Obama on Wednesday.

“I remain hopeful that productive conversations can be had in the days ahead,” Boehner said. “But the White House has to get serious.”

Republicans have said they would accept new revenues in a deal that included a commitment to significant spending cuts and entitlement reforms, but Boehner reiterated his opposition to higher tax rates.

Boehner said until there is a serious discussion of spending cuts, “there is a real danger of going off the fiscal cliff.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) after a separate meeting with Geithner released a statement that echoed Boehner's comments. McConnell said it was time for Obama to stop campaigning and to get serious in the talks. 

Senate Democrats argue Republicans have yet to offer any specifics beyond vague assertions that tax revenue is on the table. On entitlements, they say Republicans should offer a plan since it is the GOP’s priority.

“Is Boehner saying nothing? Then we’re negotiating with ourselves. Boehner has not had one specific proposal. The Republicans have had not one specific proposal. They can do it on the tax side, they can do it on the spending side. What do they propose,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership.

Schumer said Republican leaders’ general offer to find ways to raise revenues to reduce the deficit was “nothing.”

On taxes, he said Democrats would raise income tax rates on families earning above $250,000, raise the capital gains rate to 20 percent and set the estate tax rate at 45 percent.

Republicans are voicing increasing frustration that the fiscal cliff debate has so far been dominated by talk of taxes to the exclusion of spending cuts, and a Boehner spokesman said Wednesday that the Speaker had accepted a meeting with administration officials with the expectation they would bring a specific proposal.

Geithner and Rob Nabors, the White House’s chief congressional liaison, left without speaking to reporters, but Boehner’s tone suggested they had not brought specifics.

Nabors, walking near the office of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), declined to tell reporters whether he agreed with Boehner's assessment or if the administration officials had brought many detailed proposals with them to Capitol Hill.

"I'm just going to grab lunch," Nabors said. "You're really not going to get anything out of me here.”

Nabors later huddled just off the Senate floor with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Democrats have sounded the same complaint about the GOP position, arguing that while Republicans have put revenues on the table and insisted on entitlement reforms, they have not detailed specific proposals on either.

Obama and Democratic leaders have held firm to their position that tax rates on the wealthy must rise, and they have suggested that Republicans are slowly bowing to that inevitability.

The impasse in the negotiations came a day after Boehner rejected a push by a senior Republican, Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), to agree to Obama’s demand that the House pass an extension of tax rates on income up to $250,000, leaving rates for the wealthy to be debated later.

On Thursday, Boehner would not say whether the House would act on that legislation, which the Senate has passed, if the only other alternative was going over the fiscal cliff. “I’m going to do everything I can to avoid putting the American economy, the American people through the fiasco of going over the fiscal cliff,” he said.

When a reporter asked if Boehner was walking away from the talks, the Speaker interjected. “No, no, no. Stop,” he said. “I got to tell you: I am disappointed in where we are and disappointed in what’s happened over the last couple of weeks. But going over the fiscal cliff is serious business, and I’m here seriously trying to resolve it. And I would hope the White House would get serious as well.”

The Speaker also confirmed that he told Obama earlier this month that if the president wanted an increase in the debt limit included in a fiscal cliff deal, it would come with an additional “price tag.”

“As I told the president a couple weeks ago, there’s a lot of things I’ve wanted in my life, but almost all of them had a price tag attached to them,” Boehner said. “And if we’re going to talk about the debt limit in this, then there’s going to be some price tag associated with it.”

— Bernie Becker and Alexander Bolton contributed to this story.

— Posted at 11:45 a.m. and updated at 1:28 p.m.

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