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Obama makes 'fiscal cliff' offer. Are contours of a deal emerging? (+video)

In fiscal cliff negotiations, President Obama is now proposing that tax hikes could begin with households earning $400,000, not the $250,000 that he has long called for.

'Not there yet' is how House Speaker John Boehner described the state of play Tuesday morning.
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With time running out to reach a deal on the "fiscal cliff," President Obama softened his bargaining stance by moving closer to Republicans on taxes and Social Security.

The president's latest position is that tax hikes on wealthy Americans could begin with households earning $400,000, not the $250,000 that he has long called for. He also signaled willingness to support a new way of measuring inflation when calculating yearly cost-of-living increases in Social Security benefits.

Mr. Obama's offer, as summarized in news reports Tuesday morning, also includes backing away from a call for the executive branch to have permanent borrowing authority in an era of chronic deficits. Instead, he is now seeking a deal that raises the US debt limit high enough that it would not need to be revisited by Congress until after the 2014 midterm elections.

His proposals stir strong opposition from some members of his own party, who hoped for a firmer stand on high-income tax hikes and for stiff resistance to a new inflation gauge for entitlement benefits (a move that would also reduce annual increases in pensions for military veterans and federal retirees).

And, by itself, the Obama offer doesn't move the bargaining into its final stage. House Republican leaders promptly said Obama's moves haven't gone far enough.

"Not there yet" is how House Speaker John Boehner described the state of play Tuesday morning. "We do not have a balanced plan" when the president is proposing $1.3 trillion in tax hikes and $850 billion in net spending reductions over the next decade, he said.

Still, with each step that the two parties take toward each other, the potential for a fiscal agreement draws nearer. Both sides agree that the fiscal cliff – tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled for Jan. 1 – represents a severe and unneeded shock to consumer activity, which could push the nation into recession. So the two sides have continued to negotiate, with the goal of finding a way to reduce future deficits without doing much near-term harm to a fragile economy.

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