House Speaker John Boehner today said no progress has been made in negotiations with President Obama, demonstrating the persistence of a bullheaded standoff between the two party leaders just 24 days before the fiscal cliff deadline.
"This isn't a progress report because there's no progress to report," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at a news conference from the Capitol this morning. "When it comes to the fiscal cliff that's threatening our economy and threatening jobs, the White House has wasted another week."
The primary sticking point continues to be a disagreement over how to address tax cuts set to expire for taxpayers making above $250,000. The president insists rates on the wealthy must increase as part of an agreement, and so far Boehner has been adamant that any new revenue included in a deal must be created by closing tax loopholes and capping deductions.
"Raising taxes on small businesses is not going to help our economy and it's not going to help those seeking work," the speaker said. "I came out the day after the election to put revenues on the table to take a step towards the president to try to resolve this. When is he going to take a step towards us?"
Boehner said his phone call with Obama on Wednesday was not productive, and negotiations between White House officials and the speaker's top aides this week have not brought either side closer to an agreement.
"The phone call was pleasant but was just more of the same," Boehner said. "It's time for the president, if he's serious, to come back to us with a counteroffer."
Asked whether he could find a middle ground on increasing the top tax rates while simultaneously protecting small business, the speaker seemed to suggest a hint of flexibility on what has been a red line issue for Republicans up to this point.
"There are a lot of things that are possible to put the revenues that the president seeks on the table, but none of it's going to be possible [if] the president insists on his position, insists on 'my way or the highway,'" he said. "That's not the way to get to an agreement that I think is important for the American people and very important for our economy."
Reports indicate that negotiations have narrowed to include only the speaker's top policy aides and senior White House officials - cutting the Senate and House Democrats out of the talks for now.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi declined to disclose when she last spoke with Obama, but she did have a photo taken with him at a White House holiday reception on Monday. Today, she expressed solidarity with her president.
"I don't necessarily talk about when and how many times I speak to the president, but I'm very satisfied with the communication that I have with the president," she said. "The president knows our views. He shares our values. We feel confident in any negotiation that he takes the lead in."
Boehner once again condemned the president's only formal offer on Nov. 29, which called for $1.6 trillion in new revenue over the next decade, presidential power over the debt limit, and about $400 billion in new stimulus spending, predicting it would be a recipe for "trillion dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see."
"The president has adopted a deliberate strategy to slow-walk our economy right to the edge of the fiscal cliff," Boehner said. "If the president doesn't agree with our proposal, I believe that he's got an obligation to families and small businesses to offer a plan of his own - a plan that can pass both chambers of the Congress. We're ready and eager to talk to the president about such a plan."
Boehner also derided the president's request for what the speaker describes as "an infinite increase in the debt limit, like forever."
As Obama and Boehner consider the options to devising a bipartisan package, congressional insiders say the pressure is on both leaders to find the right touch that will win over adequate support to pass in the House and Senate.
"The bigger issue is Boehner is on the hook to negotiate on good faith on a deal that we [House Democrats], the White House and Senate Democrats would ok that includes [increases to tax] rates," one senior House Democratic leadership aide said. "Hate to be in his position."