Though publicly appearing like a bickering married couple, the nation's top Republican and Democrat continue to remain in contact while working out a deal to avoid a series of sweeping tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to hit in the New Year. House Speaker John Boehner said Friday, after the White House spurned his most recent offer, which allowed for $800 billion in increased revenues over 10 years alongside broad spending cuts, it's up to Obama to come back with something "that can pass both chambers of Congress."
"We're ready and eager to talk to the president about such a plan," Boehner briefed reporters. Asked about his much-publicized phone call with Obama earlier this week, Boehner said, "The phone call was pleasant, but it's just more of the same. It's time for the president, if he's serious, to come back to us with a counter offer."
Boehner accused Obama of trying to "slow walk" the economy to the edge of the fiscal cliff – the scheduled tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts that will take effect after Dec. 31 if no deal is struck. Obama and Boehner broadly agree on the parameters of the deal, such as the amount of debt reduction needed But they remain at loggerheads when it comes to tax increases, with the president insisting rates must be raised on the wealthiest Americans and the speaker claiming additional revenues can be found by eliminating some deductions and loopholes and leaving rates as they are.
But Boehner's stance could be softening, as the deadline nears and the White House digs in. When asked specifically about a compromise on the top rate, Boehner did not, as he has in the past, dismiss the concept out of hand.
"There are a lot of things that are possible to put the revenue the president seeks on the table but none of it's going to be possible if the president insists on his position, insists on 'my way or the highway,'" Boehner said.
The Obama administration has spent the week pressing its case with the American public. Obama traveled to Northern Virginia on Thursday to meet with a woman living with her son and parents about what it would mean if the scheduled tax increases go into effect. Vice President Joe Biden also met with several people on Friday to discuss the same issue. These campaign-style events have been met with criticism on Capitol Hill and beyond.
Bill Galston, a senior governance fellow at the Brookings Institute, said it's time for leaders to be meeting directly in order to avoid the potential economic chaos of going over the fiscal cliff.
"If the leaders of the parties are serious about reaching an agreement, they'll have to shift course and enter into private, face-to-face negotiations, during which they would agree to cease tattling to the press about the transgressions of the other side," Galston said in a memo. Galston credited Obama with taking his case to the public, but said the time for that approach has passed.
"The people have endorsed higher taxes on the wealthy and they are prepared to hold the Republicans responsible for the breakdown of fiscal cliff talks," Galston said. "A continued public campaign will not do much more to strengthen his hand. His task is to convert political gains into policy accomplishments."
Galston said he recommends thrice-weekly meetings between the two men, Obama and Boehner, who are negotiating one-on-one per the speaker's request, according to the New York Times.
"While their positions are far apart, each side has put its opening bid on the table, and neither is likely to take another step unilaterally," Galston said. "It's time to negotiate face to face: Only that process can allow the parties to explore options unpopular with their bases, assess one another's sincerity and build a modicum of trust."