Total Pageviews

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Boehner Strikes Conciliatory Tone on \'Fiscal Cliff\'

The House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, striking a conciliatory tone a day after the Republican Party's electoral drubbing, said on Wednesday that he was ready to accept a budget deal that raises federal revenue as long as it is linked to an overhaul of entitlements and a reform of the tax code that closes loopholes, curtails or eliminates deductions and lowers income tax rates.

Mr. Boehner's gesture was the most explicit offer he has made to avert the “fiscal cliff” in January, when billions of dollars in tax increases and automatic spending cuts go into force. And it came hours after Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, offered his own olive branch, saying “it's better to dance than to fight.”

“Mr. President, this is your moment,” Mr. Boehner told reporters in the Capitol. “We're ready to lead, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.”

The offer may be enough to bring the parties to the table in the wake of an election that kept President Obama in power, strengthened the Democrats' grip on the Senate and chipped away at the still-large Republican majority in the House.

But Democrats and Republicans are still far apart. Mr. Boehner made it clear that his vision for additional revenue includes a tax code that lowers even the top income tax rate from where it is now, 35 percent, not where it would be in January when the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire - 39.6 percent. At least some of that additional revenue would come from economic growth that he said would be fueled by a simpler tax code.

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat, has said those constructs are unacceptable. Democratic leaders say tax reform that lowers tax rates across the board would either hurt the middle class by trimming vital tax benefits like the home mortgage deduction or would not raise enough taxes to meaningfully reduce the deficit. M r. Reid underscored Mr. Obama's contention that tax rates on the rich must rise, saying “the vast majority of Americans” support that, “including rich people.”

But in language and timing, the leaders of Congress's two chambers left the unmistakable impression that they want a deal at least large enough to avert the worst economic impacts of a sudden rise in income, payroll, capital gains, dividend, interest and estate tax rates that would affect virtually every American family, working or not. Mr. Boehner has said for months that a deal to reform taxes and entitlements and substantially lower the deficit is not appropriate for a lame-duck Congress.

But facing a Congress next year that will be less Republican than the current one, he suggested on Wednesday that he would favor a deal that would serve at least as “a down payment on - and a catalyst for - major solutions, enacted in 2013.”

He said he had spoken to the president on Wednesday before m aking his statement to reporters.

“I'm not suggesting we compromise on our principles,” he said, “but I am suggesting we commit ourselves to creating an atmosphere where we can see common ground when it exists and seize it.”

Follow Jonathan Weisman on Twitter at @jonathanweisman.