Barack Obama, as US President, and John Boehner, as US Representative of Ohio and House Speaker/AP
By David Jackson and Susan Davis, USA TODAY
President Obama and congressional leaders discussed short-term plans
Friday to avoid the tax hikes and budget cuts that kick in next week if
the nation goes over the so-called "fiscal cliff."
officials declined to comment on the meeting that began at 3:10 p.m. and
lasted a little more than an hour; but they noted that the president
has offered to work on a short-term deal to beat the Dec. 31 deadline
for the cliff.
Before leaving for vacation in Hawaii a week ago,
Obama said he asked Republican and Democratic leaders to "work toward a
package that prevents a tax hike on middle-class Americans, protects
unemployment insurance for 2 million Americans and lays the groundwork
for further work on both growth and deficit reduction. That's an
Obama returned to the White House on Thursday.
On Friday afternoon, he met with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio;
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; House Minority Leader Nancy
Pelosi, D-Calif.; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also attended.
Even if the group agrees on a deal, it would still have to be approved by both the Republican House and Democratic Senate.
recent weeks, the White House and Congress had hoped for a major deal
to reduce the federal debt that now exceeds $16 trillion. They have
discussed spending cuts, steps toward a tax overhaul and changes to
entitlement programs and ways to address the debt ceiling.
With time growing short, however, the parties are now discussing a scaled-back agreement ahead of next week's deadline.
of their likely topics on Friday: the fate of the George W. Bush tax
cuts, which are due to expire at the end of the year, leading to a rise
in income tax rates for all Americans.
Obama has proposed
extending the Bush tax rates for most Americans, but ending them for
those who make more than $250,000; he has also discussed increasing that
threshold to $400,000 a year in talks with Republicans..
Republicans oppose any rise in income tax rates, though Boehner has
offered to end the Bush tax cuts for those who make more than $1 million
In the meantime, some officials are already talking about
what happens after the country goes over the cliff on Tuesday, New
"It looks like that is where we're headed," Reid said
on Thursday, if only because so little time is left before the end of
Lawmakers are now starting to say that the next Congress
-- the one that will be sworn in Jan. 3 -- will have to work on a debt
reduction deal, including legislation to deal retroactively with the tax
increases that take effect on Jan. 1.
One advantage of this
approach: Senate and House members in the next Congress would be able to
argue next year that they are voting to cut taxes; the tax hikes would
already be in effect.
Reid blamed Boehner and the Republican-run
House, saying they have refused to even vote on plans to reduce the debt
with higher taxes on the wealthy as well as budget cuts.
Boehner said it's up to Reid and the Senate Democrats to act on measures passed by the House that emphasize reduced spending.
the Friday meeting at the White House, some senior administration
officials -- including Geithner and top adviser Valerie Jarrett -- will
conduct a conference call with business leaders to discuss fiscal cliff
issues; Obama himself will not be on the call.
partisan impasse, there is overwhelming agreement on Capitol Hill that
Washington will at least extend the current tax rates for the majority
of Americans. "It'll get resolved, and most Americans, almost all
Americans, won't pay higher taxes next year," said Sen. Lamar Alexander,
What remains uncertain is whether Congress will send
legislation to the president before the Dec. 31 "fiscal cliff" deadline,
or in the days or weeks after when the tax rates have expired. "That'll
either be settled this weekend by our votes or it'll be settled after
the first of the year," Alexander said.
Efforts to achieve a
broad deficit reduction deal are all but gone, said Alexander and Sen.
Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who outlined their proposal Friday to deal with the
next budgetary crisis facing Washington - a vote to raise the $16.4
trillion debt ceiling, the nation's borrowing authority.
for America, the next line in the sand is going to be the debt
ceiling," said Corker, who outlined a GOP proposal to raise the debt
ceiling by $1 trillion in exchange for entitlement changes to Medicare,
Social Security and Medicaid.
Corker said he believes the White
House meeting is for "optics" and will not produce any significant
bipartisan agreement. He said senators, during a series of votes Friday,
were discussing on the floor how to bring up a bill to address the
immediate fiscal issues of expiring tax rates and spending cuts.
levied a harsh critique of the president and his congressional
colleagues. "It's pretty apparent that we're not going to do what we've
been called to do," he said, "I think that every American should be
disgusted with all of Washington....And it's a shame that we are where we
are, and candidly, that our economy is not going to be what it could
have been the first quarter of this year if we had just done the work
that we were supposed to do by this year end."