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No deal: GOP, Democrats trade barbs as clock ticks down on ‘fiscal cliff’

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2012

President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner offered no outward signs of progress Tuesday on talks to reach a year-end agreement on taxes and spending, with the House Republican leader accusing the president of "slow walking" negotiations and the White House criticizing Republican proposals to raise tax revenue as too vague.

Less than three weeks before the government hits a Jan. 1 deadline for automatic tax hikes and steep spending cuts, Mr. Obama found himself under increasing pressure from his liberal base to spare entitlement programs from any cuts.

Republican lawmakers say curbing entitlement spending must be a part of a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff."

As the White House and Congress traded accusations, business leaders emphasized the importance of Washington reaching an agreement to prevent the fragile economy from falling into another recession.

The Business Roundtable, the nation’s largest group of CEOs, on Tuesday urged Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner to "step forward" and prevent a harsh blow to the economy.

"The United States will suffer significant negative economic, employment, and social consequences for going over the fiscal cliff," the group said in a letter. "In many cases, the damage will be long-lasting, if not permanent. But it does not have to happen."

The accusations between the speaker and the administration appeared to be a step backward, after Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama held a secret meeting at the White House on Sunday that raised hopes of a deal.

The president instead followed up that meeting by holding a partisan, campaign-style rally Monday with unionized auto workers near Detroit to complain that House Republicans are blocking tax relief for the middle class.

Mr. Boehner responded with his own salvo Tuesday on the House floor, calling on Mr. Obama to "get serious" in their negotiations.

"Where are the president’s spending cuts?"’ Mr. Boehner asked. "The longer the White House slow walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff."

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president has offered detailed spending cuts, "unlike any other party to these negotiations."

"What we haven't seen from Republicans to this day is a single specific proposal on revenue," Mr. Carney said.

Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, raised the pressure on Mr. Obama not to touch entitlement programs such as Medicaid as part of any agreement.

"Any cut in Medicaid will be felt by our most vulnerable," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat. "We can’t let that happen. That’s what’s at stake here."

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, said he feels "no obligation" to support Medicaid cuts to avert the fiscal cliff.

"I feel an obligation to my people, and I feel an obligation to do what's right," Mr. Rockefeller said. "We're not budging on Medicare, and we're not budging on Medicaid, and Medicaid above all because it’s the unknown. It's the one that people don't talk about."

Liberal groups and lawmakers scheduled more events for Wednesday on Capitol Hill to urge the president to preserve entitlement spending.

Even as the White House accused Republican lawmakers of failing to propose firm numbers for a deficit-reduction deal, the Obama administration retreated from one of its own proposals to achieve savings from Medicaid. The Department of Health and Human Services announced it no longer supports a plan to change the calculations that determine the federal government’s share of Medicaid spending, which had been expected to produce savings of about $21 billion over 10 years. The proposal was part of earlier deficit negotiations, and Mr. Obama had included it in his 2013 budget.

Mr. Carney said the administration pulled the proposed Medicaid savings off the table due to "some changes in the world," including the Supreme Court’s decision in June that upheld the president’s Affordable Care Act. The ruling said states must be allowed to opt out of the law’s expansion of Medicaid.

"We will propose other savings to make up for the difference," Mr. Carney said, without offering any.

Tim Devaney contributed to this article.

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