Can Congress Avoid Fiscal Cliff? Boehner 'Not Confident At All'
House Speaker John Boehner bluntly assessed the prospects for a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction and called on President Obama to demonstrate leadership by unveiling his administration's plan to avoid half a trillion dollars of defense cuts and a wave of expiring tax breaks set to take effect on January 1, 2013.
"I'm not confident at all," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday. "Listen, the House has done its job on both the sequester and on the looming tax hikes that'll cost our economy some 700,000 jobs. The Senate at some point has to act, and on both of these where's the president? Where's the leadership? Absent without leave."
At question is a slate of expiring provisions in the federal tax code, in addition to $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts set to take effect on January 1, 2012. The Budget Control Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by Obama last summer, requires $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts equally divided between defense and domestic programs over the next decade, with the first $109 billion due to take effect Jan. 2, 2013.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reacted to the speaker's comments, explaining that he is "disappointed" with Boehner's lack of confidence for a deal for deficit reduction.
"We have to look at the glass being half full, not half empty all the time," Reid, D-Nev., said following the Democrats' weekly caucus luncheon. "I'm confident that we will reach some kind of an arrangement…it's much, much too early to give up."
Earlier in the day, Boehner touted the fact that the House of Representatives has passed a bill to extend all of the current tax rates and recounted the House's efforts to replace the defense sequester with alternative spending cuts.
The vast majority of Democrats agree with most Republicans that Congress should work to avoid the effects of the sequester, but assert that the GOP goes about it the wrong way by prioritizing defense spending and protecting tax cuts for the wealthy while undercutting the country's social safety net and other programs intended to build the middle class.
Democrats contend that the Republicans' plan would increase the number of children, senior citizens, and others without health insurance and eliminate the Social Services Block grant, which supports programs like Meals on Wheels for 1.7 million seniors and child protective services for at-risk children. Additionally, 326,000 women would not get the breast cancer screenings they are slated to receive in FY 2013 and 284,000 women would not get the cervical cancer screenings they are slated to receive in FY 2013.
Asked to respond to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's criticism that congressional leaders made a mistake by agreeing to the sequester as part of the Budget Control Act last year, Boehner called the collapse of the grand bargain negotiations with the president "the biggest disappointment of my speakership."
The speaker admitted the summertime debate was "a difficult time," but he blamed Obama for devising the sequester "because the president didn't want to have a second round of a fight over increasing the debt limit."
"The president didn't want his reelection inconvenienced by another fight over a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling, and that's why we have it," Boehner recalled. "But having said that, somehow we have to deal with our spending problems. America continues to spend more money than what we bring in. and we have to resolve it."
The House meets just 11 more days before the election, and many congressional insiders believe a resolution to the standoff will not come until a busy lame duck session of Congress after voters register their input at the polls on November 6th.
Reid added his belief that once the election is over, "the tea party's strength will be significantly weakened," and he predicted there will be more resolve among Republicans to compromise.
ABC News' Sunlen Miller contributed to this report