In dueling media availabilities across the Capitol this morning, House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi both reached the same conclusion when confronted with questions about the consequence of failing to strike a deal in the next 34 days to avert the fiscal cliff. Failure is not an option.
"Going over the fiscal cliff will hurt our economy and will hurt job creation in our country," Boehner, R-Ohio, warned. "Republicans are committed to continuing to work with the president to come to an agreement to avert the so-called fiscal cliff."
Pelosi expressed a similar tone of optimism about reaching an agreement with Republicans in the coming month. Her preference is to have it done by Dec. 15.
"There has to be a deal," Pelosi said during a photo spray prior to a meeting with members of the "Campaign to Fix the Debt" Wednesday morning. "Everybody knows what the possibilities are so let's just do it."
Still, the path to a bipartisan agreement on policy is not yet clear.
Republicans had just held a members-only meeting to sooth tensions bubbling up from within the conference. Tuesday, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., began urging colleagues to delay the debate over extending tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent for another day. Cole urged colleagues, in the short term, to accept White House demands that Bush tax cuts be extended for 98 percent of Americans. That would mean a tax hike for a few. But it would also pave the way for a fiscal cliff avoidance deal.
"I told Tom earlier in our conference meeting that I disagreed with him," Boehner responded when asked Cole's proposal is worthy of consideration. "The goal here is to grow the economy and control spending. You're not going to grow the economy if you raise tax rates on the top [two percent]. It'll hurt small businesses, it'll hurt our economy. That's why this is not the right approach."
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, also resisted pressure to pass the Democratic legislation, which would extend tax cuts on the first $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for families, but she urged lawmakers to compromise.
"A plan that would cut nearly one million jobs is a non-starter, so we are working to find a better way," McMorris Rogers said of the president's proposal, which has already passed the Democratic-controlled Senate. "When it comes to the fiscal cliff, the president and Congress will either fail together or we will succeed together. There is nothing in between."
The speaker said he remains "optimistic" that Republicans and Democrats will work together to avert this crisis "sooner rather than later."
"The president understands, I believe, and I understand that going over the fiscal cliff will hurt our economy and hurt job creation in our country. This is not good for our country!" Boehner exclaimed. "It's as simple as that, and the president understands it."
Still, the speaker maintained sincerity about striking a deal and pointed to the GOP's willingness to "put revenue on the table as long as it's accompanied by serious spending cuts" as proof-positive.
"We believe that this fits the president's request for a balanced approach to this issue, and we're going to continue to work with the president to try to resolve this in a way that is fair for the American people," Boehner said. "We all know that we've had this spending crisis coming at us like a freight train, and it has to be dealt with."
In a political display of "Good Cop/ Bad Cop," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor complained that Democrats have not reciprocated on the GOP's efforts to negotiate in good faith by putting revenue on the table. Cantor stressed the importance of reforming the drivers of the debt, namely Medicare and Medicaid - something most Democrats resist - in exchange for the GOP's pledge to put revenue on the table. Increasing marginal income tax rates, on the other hand, "is not the way to produce growth and to put people back to work."
"We have not seen any good faith from the part of this administration to talk about the real problem that we're trying to fix," Cantor, R-Va., said. "This has to be a part of this agreement or else we just continue to dig the hole deeper, asking folks to allow us to kick the can down the road further, and that we don't want to do."
Pelosi conceded that regardless of whatever framework congressional leaders and the president concoct, the details will have to be worked out and implemented in the next Congress.
"It's really important for us to avoid going over the cliff, but it's not the end of our work," she said. "After that we need to address more fully the issue of tax simplification and fairness and how we can close loopholes, lower rates, whatever that is. It's a fuller and longer discussion as well as addressing how we can strengthen our Medicare, Medicaid, social security and the rest."
"We are ready," she added. "I think the agreement could be reached."