President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, the two top negotiators of the deficit reduction deal aimed at averting automatic year-end tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts, continue to move closer to a bargain. But it remains unclear whether or not the two sides can come together ahead of the December 31st deadline to avoid taking the country over the so-called fiscal cliff.
Boehner spent about 45 minutes at the White House on Monday after reportedly making big concessions in an offer to Obama over the weekend, including a willingness to raise tax rates on Americans earning more than $1 million a year. Previously, Republicans had uniformly opposed such a proposal, though Obama has insisted on increased rates on those earning more than $250,000 a year. It's a position the White House said Monday is unchanged.
"[Obama's] position is not based on the notion that these rates have to go up because that's good in and of itself," spokesman Jay Carney said during the daily press briefing. "It's based on the necessity of having enough revenue as part of this balanced package, and revenue only coming from the wealthiest Americans, those who can afford it most, to ensure that we're not unduly putting the burden on the middle class or on seniors or families with children with disabilities."
Obama and Boehner have periodically met face-to-face and spoken on the phone in recent weeks, as their staffs work to forge a compromise, suggesting talks remain ongoing. But the two sides remain far apart on both the size and details of a debt package.
Obama continues to hold the upper-hand over Boehner, as made obvious by the fact that it's been the Republican slowly marching towards the president's demands in each subsequent exchange of proposals. Boehner's latest pitch, for instance, would cut $1 trillion in spending over 10 years, largely from entitlements like Medicare, in exchange for $1 trillion in increased revenues, according to reports. The president, meanwhile, has reportedly said he's willing to consider a package containing $1.4 trillion in increased revenue, down from his initial proposal of $1.6 trillion.
Throughout the one-on-one negotiations, most lawmakers have remained in limbo about their holiday travel plans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday he does not expect a bargain to be struck until after Christmas.
"It appears at this stage, we'll see if anything changes, but it appears we're going to be coming back the day after Christmas to complete work on the fiscal cliff," he said on the Senate floor.
Two major factors are making things tough on Boehner. The first is that tax rates on all Americans will go up in the New Year if no deal is made – something that would be a devastating blow to Republicans, who would get most of the blame, according to public polling. The second is that even if he manages to strike a deal with the president, there's no evidence that he'll be assured of marshalling the support from his members that would be needed to pass it, particularly as the president presses him further and further on increasing tax revenues.
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Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.