Raising tax rates is "unacceptable" to House Speaker John Boehner as he prepares to open negotiations on the looming "fiscal cliff" with the president and congressional Democrats, he told "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer today in an exclusive interview.
"Raising tax rates is unacceptable," Boehner, R-Ohio, said in his first broadcast interview since the election Tuesday.
"Frankly, it couldn't even pass the House. I'm not sure it could pass the Senate."
That stance could set up a real showdown with the White House given that the president has said he would veto any deal that does not allow tax cuts for the rich to expire. But the speaker said that Republicans would put new tax revenue on the table as leaders work toward a deal.
"I would do that if the president was serious about solving our spending problem and trying to secure our entitlement programs," Boehner said. "If you're increasing taxes on small-business people, it's the wrong approach."
Nevertheless, Boehner added that he is at least willing to listen to the president's proposals, even if they clash with his party's principles.
"Of course, we'll talk about it. We talk about all kinds of things we may disagree on," Boehner said. "I'm the most reasonable, responsible person here in Washington. The president knows it. He knows that he and I can work together. The election's over. Now it's time to get to work."
The fiscal cliff is a mix of tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect at the end of the year that could sink the economy back into recession. Boehner told Sawyer he imagines that negotiations on a bipartisan deal will begin soon, although he did not reveal whether any talks had already been scheduled.
Still, he said he hoped the framework of a deal could be completed by the end of the year in order to direct the next Congress to work out the details.
"The American people elected new representatives," he said. "They're the ones who ought to be the ones to do this.
"There are things that we can do in the lame duck to avert the fiscal crisis, but we want to do this the right way. We don't want to rush through this in the next two to three weeks. And what do you get? You can't rewrite the tax code in the next two or three weeks. And, so, there's a lot of possibilities in terms of how we proceed, and I'm confident that we can."
Boehner also said he welcomes back Rep. Paul Ryan, whose profile has exploded since he was chosen by Mitt Romney as the vice presidential nominee. Ryan won re-election to his House seat in Wisconsin at the same time he lost the vice presidency, but Boehner demurred when asked whether his place on the presidential ticket would increase his leadership profile.
"Because he ran for the vice presidency, is he the leader of the Republican party now?" Sawyer asked.
"Oh, I wouldn't think so. Paul Ryan's a policy wonk," Boehner said. "He's involved in the cause of trying to bring us pro-growth economic agendas for America and making sure that we're doing this in a fiscally responsible way.
"I'm glad that Paul Ryan's coming back to the Congress. I would expect he would continue as chairman of the Budget Committee," he said.
"Probably nobody in the Congress knows more about pro-growth economic policies other than Paul Ryan. I don't think there's many people in the Congress who understand the entitlement crisis that we're facing more than Paul Ryan. I think he'll be an important voice in this discussion and in this debate."
Boehner also said that once he saw that Mitt Romney would lose the race for the White House, he went to sleep at about 11:15 p.m. on election night with the realization that he would wake up to divided government, but still "slept like a baby."
"I may not like the five cards that have been dealt to me, but those are the cards I've got in my hand, and my job on behalf of the American people is to find a way to vote with my Democratic colleagues and a Democratic president to solve America's problems," he said. "If there was one mandate that came out of the election, it was find a way to work together to address our problems."
Sawyer asked the speaker whether Romney should take responsibility for those election results, but Boehner said he is proud of his campaign.
"I'll let all the political prognosticators figure out how the election went and why it went the way it did because Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan did a very nice job carrying our banner," he said. "But we lost. The other side did a much more effective job in getting their votes out to them, out to the polls. And as I'm fond of saying, 'Polls don't decide elections, voters do,' and more of their voters showed up than ours."
Asked whether he will make another attempt to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act, Boehner said "the election changes that" and "Obamacare is the law of the land."
Still, there are some parts of the law, he said, that should be on the table as lawmakers work toward a balanced budget.
The speaker also revealed that comprehensive, bipartisan immigration overhaul would be a top priority of his agenda during the 113th Congress.
"This issue has been around far too long," he said. "A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I'm confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."
The speaker also downplayed the influence of the Tea Party on his Congress, even though at least 49 members of the Tea Party caucus won re-election.
"This has been the most misreported story of my two years' tenure. We don't have a Tea Party caucus to speak of in the House," Boehner said. "All of us who were elected in 2010 were supported by the Tea Party.
"These are ordinary Americans who've taken a more active role in their government. They want solutions, but we've all come a long way over the last two years. I think we all understand each other a lot better."
With minorities and women comprising of a majority within the House Democratic Caucus during the next session, Sawyer asked Boehner whether the Republican Party is too white, too old and too male. The speaker acknowledged that the GOP has work ahead to appeal to other demographics.
"What Republicans need to learn is how do we speak to all Americans. You know, not just the people who look like us and act like us, but how do we speak to all Americans," Boehner said.
"Listen, we believe in the American dream. We believe in individual freedom, and we believe in empowering all citizens. I think there's a message there that resonates with all Americans, but we need to do a much more effective job in communicating it."