Fiscal Talks Turn as Tax Pledge Questioned

Obama Calls Boehner, Reid But No Plans for Meeting

ByABC News
November 26, 2012, 6:02 PM

Nov. 26, 2012 -- The two-party tango that is negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" took a turn Monday as two more Republican lawmakers expressed willingness to break with a long-standing anti-tax pledge and the White House revealed that President Obama made fresh overtures to congressional leaders on both sides.

Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska both indicated today that they feel no attachment to a pledge -- drafted by Grover Norquist and the Americans for Tax Reform -- to not raise tax revenue one cent. The pledge has long been viewed as a barrier to a "balanced" debt and deficit reduction deal.

On "World News" Monday, Norquist told ABC's Jonathan Karl the pledge - even if a politician signed it 18 years ago like House Speaker John Boehner - should be like a wedding vow.

Nearly every Republican in Congress has signed the pledge at some point in their career. But a growing number -- now five in the Senate and one in the House -- have said they would violate that pledge, so long as Democrats agree to changes in entitlement programs.

Meanwhile, the White House said Obama called House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over the holiday weekend to discuss nascent negotiations over how to avoid the "fiscal cliff," a sweeping array of automatic tax hikes and deep cuts to government spending come Jan. 1.

For all the buzz about the "fiscal cliff" talks -- and optimism from both sides about reaching an agreement in the next 36 days -- negotiations have not gone very far even as officials close to the process say it's not that hard to strike a deal.

"We remain hopeful and optimistic that we can achieve a deal," White House spokesman Jay Carney said today when asked whether talks had reached an impasse. But he added, "I think that there are issues that need to be resolved."

Obama, Boehner, Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have no plans to meet in person this week, officials said. They first and last met at the White House on Nov. 16.

Democrats and Republicans have agreed in principal to increased tax revenue as part of a deal -- with some Republicans now willing to violate Norquist's pledge -- but one of the stickiest points of disagreement remains how to raise the revenue and from whom.

Obama insists income tax rates should rise on individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and families making more than $250,000 -- the top 2 percent of Americans. Republicans remain staunchly opposed.

Boehner and other party leaders have said the same amount of revenue can be raised by closing loopholes and capping deductions, targeting higher-income earners, as a product of economic growth while decreasing net tax rates themselves.

"As we've seen in recent days, the American people support an approach that involves both major spending cuts and additional revenue via tax reform with lower tax rates," Boehner said in a statement citing public opinion data from a Republican pollster that found a majority support the elimination of loopholes and deductions to raise revenue over increasing rates.