Leaders say fiscal cliff talks good start

Updated Nov. 16, 2012 at 2:13 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said Friday "revenue is on the table" if it is part of a balanced approach to avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff.

Republican and Democratic congressional leaders said talks with President Barack Obama at the White House were a good first step on averting scheduled spending cuts and tax hikes.

Boehner, R-Ohio, said he outlined a framework that addresses reforming the tax code and reforming spending.

"I believe that the framework that I outlined [at] our meeting today is consistent with the president's call for a fair and balanced approach," Boehner said. "To show our seriousness we put revenue on the table as long as it's accompanied by significant spending cuts."

While revenue would remain on the table, Boehner said it would be "incumbent on my colleagues to show the American people that we're serious about cutting spending and solving our fiscal dilemma. I believe we can do this and avert the fiscal cliff that is right in front of us today."

"This is the first time we've dealt with these issues and feel we understand what the problem is. I felt very good about what we were able to talk about in there," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters after the White House meeting. "We have the cornerstones of being able to work something out."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the meeting was constructive, but she said some attention needs to be paid to the short term.

"We should have a deadline. We should show some milestones of success so that confidence can build as we reach our solution," she said.

If nothing happens by the end of the year, many economists warn, the U.S. economy will go off the so-called fiscal cliff -- a confluence of deep across-the-board spending cuts and the expiration of lower tax rates enacted during President George W. Bush's administration -- and fall into another recession. The rates, if allowed to expire, would return to the levels in effect when Bill Clinton was president.

Leaders understand their responsibility, Pelosi said.

"We understand that it has to be about cuts. It has to be about revenue," Pelosi said. "It has to be about growth. It has to be about the future."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also said his party is "prepared to put revenue on the table provided we fix the real problem."

"Most of my members, I think without exception, believe that we're in the dilemma we're in not because we taxed too little, but because we spent too much," McConnell said.

Before the discussions began, Obama said everyone in the room was "aware that we have some urgent business to do. We've got to make sure that taxes don't go up on middle-class families."

Politicians and citizens of all political stripes share this agenda, he said before going into closed-door discussions.

"So our challenge is to make sure that we are able to cooperate together, work together, find some common ground, make some tough compromises [and] build some consensus to do the people's business," Obama said.

Obama urged Congress this week to extend the lower tax rates for the first $250,000 in income for all taxpayers, a move he said would carve into the fiscal cliff.

"We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy," Obama said.

"If we get that in place, we are actually removing half of the fiscal cliff. Half of the danger to our economy is removed by that single step."

Senate Health Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told The Hill Thursday Medicare and Medicaid should not be on the table as part of a plan to avoid the fiscal cliff.

"When it comes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the American people told us to protect and strengthen these programs, not cut them," Harkin said. "The American people want a change in the structure of who pays and making sure that we keep the programs that protect the poor, the disabled and the elderly."

Harkin spoke at an event in Washington intended to show opposition to social program spending cuts in the interest of deficit reduction.

The event also featured Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., who said, there are "fair ways to reduce the $1 trillion federal deficit and $16 trillion national debt, but balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor is not among them."

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