A day after holding onto his speakership and the House Republican majority, John Boehner signaled openness today to the inclusion of new tax revenue in a legislative package to address the so-called "fiscal cliff" as long as proceeds are linked to entitlement reform and spending cuts.
But the speaker also indicated that he still prefers to wait until the next session of Congress to enact an all-encompassing solution.
"If there is a mandate in yesterday's results, it is a mandate for us to find a way to work together on solutions to the challenges we face together as a nation," said Boehner, R-Ohio. "We can't keep setting the bar that low. It's time we raised the bar."
The fiscal cliff, which includes a elements such as expiring tax cuts for the rich and middle class, $1 trillion in automatic cuts set to take effect next year, and a debt limit increase, remains the most daunting challenge for Congress during the lame duck session, which begins Nov. 13.
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Boehner said he hopes a bipartisan agreement would "signal to our economy, and to the world, that after years of punting on the major fiscal challenges we face, 2013 is going to be different."
"It would be an agreement that begins to pave the way for the long-term growth that is essential if we want to lift the cloud of debt hanging over our country," Boehner said. "It involves making real changes to the financial structure of entitlement programs, and reforming our tax code to curb special-interest loopholes and deductions. By working together and creating a fairer, simpler, cleaner tax code, we can give our country a stronger, healthier economy."
Fresh off his successful re-election bid, President Obama placed phone calls earlier Wednesday afternoon to congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, including Boehner, to discuss the legislative agenda for the remainder of the year. Obama made similar phone calls to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
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Boehner said he told the president that the Republican majority in the House "stands ready to work" with him "to do what's best" for the country. Still, the speaker was clear that new revenue must be a "byproduct of a growing economy," and he emphasized that "to garner Republican support for new revenues, the president must be willing to reduce spending and shore up the entitlement programs that are the primary drivers of our debt."
"We aren't seeking to impose our will on the president; we're asking him to make good on his 'balanced' approach," Boehner said. "A 'balanced' approach isn't balanced if it means higher tax rates on the small businesses that are key to getting our economy moving again and keeping it moving."
Beaming after Democrats added two members to their majority in the upper chamber last night, Reid urged Republicans to work with Democrats towards finding common ground as Congress prepares to address the conundrum of economic tasks looming during the lame duck session of Congress.
"The election's over and we have enormous challenges ahead of us right here and we have to sit down and go to work on it now," Reid told reporters in the Capitol at a news conference earlier this afternoon. "We need Republicans to help us. Compromise is not a dirty word. I'm willing to negotiate anytime on any issue."
"We can achieve really big things when we work together. That's what the American people said last night in a big way," Reid said. "I'm going to do everything within my power to be as conciliatory as possible. I want to work together, but I want everyone to also understand you can't push us around."
Reid said he also spoke with Boehner earlier Wednesday morning and the two leaders had a "pleasant" conversation.
"I'm going to draw any lines in the sand," Reid said. "He's not going to draw any lines in the sand, I don't believe. I think we need to work together."
Reid took issue with a reporter's question about whether voters preserving a divided Congress left Democrats with any leverage or momentum heading into negotiations.
"Your statement, things stayed the same, is about as far off-base as you could be," Reid said. "We had an overwhelming re-election of the president. We picked up seats in the Senate. We picked up seats in the House. That's not the status quo."
While Boehner has hinted he prefers a short-term solution during the lame duck session, Reid expressed his inclination for a long-term deal especially while $109 billion of sequester cuts, which are mandated by the Budget Control Act, are set to take effect Jan. 2.
"We're willing to work it out sooner rather than later," Reid said. "I'm not for kicking the can down the road. I think we've done that far too much."
"Waiting for a month, six weeks, six months -- that's not going to solve the problem," he added. "We know what needs to be done and so I think that we should just roll up our sleeves and get it done."
Today, Boehner was adamant that lawmakers wait until the next session of Congress is seated to enact long-term, sweeping reforms.
"We won't solve the problem of our fiscal imbalance overnight, in the midst of a lame duck session of Congress, and we certainly won't solve it by simply raising tax rates or taking a plunge off the fiscal cliff," he said. "What we can do is avert the cliff in a manner that serves as a down payment on -- and a catalyst for -- major solutions, enacted in 2013, that begin to solve the problem."
At the conclusion of his statement, Boehner addressed his remarks directly to President Obama, imploring him to lead.
"Mr. President, this is your moment. We're ready to be led, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. We want you to lead -- not as a liberal or a conservative, but as the president of the United States of America," he said. "We want you to succeed. Let's challenge ourselves to find the common ground that has eluded us. Let's rise above the dysfunction, and do the right thing together for our country in a bipartisan way."
Boehner did not field any questions from reporters and did not specify how soon negotiations might begin, or what type of forum the debate would take place in.