U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a meeting with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders as Speaker of the House John Boehner looks on in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on November 16, 2012 in Washington, DC. UPI/Olivier Douliery/Pool | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- Vice President Joe Biden said a fiscal cliff agreement could get done in 15 minutes if Republicans would allow tax rates to increase on income over $250,000.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, however, the administration is just wasting time.
Biden, at a lunch in Washington with middle class Americans, said although the economy is moving in the right direction, as indicated by the unemployment figures, "this is no time to add any additional burden for middle class people."
Biden said the administration is willing to negotiate tax rates although he would prefer they rise to Clinton-era levels for the wealthiest 2 percent of U.S. taxpayers.
Snapping his fingers, Biden said a deal could be worked out "like that" if the GOP would just acknowledge rates need to rise. He said it would take "15 minutes" for a bill to get done and said President Barack Obama likely would have him sprint up to Capitol Hill to get it and bring it back to the White House to be signed.
Boehner said Obama "wasted another week" and may be deliberately trying to "slow-walk" the country over the fiscal cliff – a combination of the scheduled expiration of current income tax rates and across-the-board federal spending mandated by federal legislation.
"Well, this isn't a progress report because there's no progress to report," Boehner, R-Ohio, said during a Friday news conference.
"When it comes to the fiscal cliff that's threatening our economy and threatening jobs, the White House has wasted another week."
Boehner suggested the president has adopted "a deliberate strategy to slow-walk our economy right to the edge of the fiscal cliff."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Boehner's "slow-walk" comments could apply to the House's schedule.
"[This] is the same Republican leadership that had the House in session ... barely a full day this week," she told a news conference.
Noting that the Labor Department reported Friday the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in November, Pelosi said the economy could be growing more "if the Republican leadership had taken up, and passed some of President Obama's job initiatives ... and had passed the middle-income tax cut."
She said the Senate has passed a bill that Obama is willing to sign and House Democrats have a petition to bring that measure to the floor.
Pelosi said the only obstacle standing in the way of middle-income tax relief is the Republicans' "unwillingness to ask the top 2 percent to pay their fair share."
The Obama administration and House Republicans have traded proposals but nothing has come of either offer. The White House plan -- a centerpiece of Obama's re-election campaign -- calls for $1.6 trillion in new revenue and $2.4 trillion in spending cuts. The Republican plan would seek $900 billion in mandatory spending cuts and $300 billion in discretionary spending cuts exceeding the spending reductions enacted in the Budget Control Act.
Boehner characterized a telephone conversation he had with Obama this week as "pleasant, but was just more of the same. ... It's time for the president to be serious, come back to us with a counter-offer."
The main issue remains the president's insistence that tax rates rise on income over $250,000, which the GOP opposes, arguing raising the rates will hurt job creation more than raising revenue through other means.
"Nothing is going to be possible if the president insists on his position," Boehner said.
Boehner criticized a comment on television by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who said the White House was "absolutely" prepared to go over the fiscal cliff if Republicans did not agree to raise tax rates.
"I think that's reckless talk," Boehner said.
Obama has said repeatedly he wouldn't sign any legislation that doesn't include an increase in tax rates for the top 2 percent.
Obama is not only insisting Republicans agree to higher tax rates for the wealthy, but also wants a deal that addresses the $16.4 trillion debt limit. Federal borrowing is on track to hit that limit early next year.