WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that he's not confident Congress can reach a budget deal and avoid a downgrading of the U.S. debt rating. His Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, was far more hopeful that "some kind of agreement" would be reached after the elections.
Boehner was asked at a Capitol Hill news conference how confident he was that negotiations would prevent the government from hitting the so-called fiscal cliff – an economy rattling set of across-the-board spending cuts and higher taxes caused by the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts that are set to hit in January.
"I'm not confident at all," said Boehner, R-Ohio.
Boehner reminded reporters that the House has passed legislation to both avoid the automatic, across-the-board cuts next year and to renew the Bush era tax cuts for one year as well. Republicans warned of the impact of the impending cuts on the military and implored Senate Democrats to act to avoid them.
"I'm hopeful we will reach some kind of agreement," countered Reid, D-Nev., suggesting that the results of the election will weaken the GOP's resolve to block tax increases on wealthier earners and that Republicans will be more willing to compromise.
"I believe that once the elections are over, the tea party's strength will be significantly weakened," Reid added.
The Senate, however, has deadlocked over taxes and failed to address the across-the-board cuts, known as a sequester in Washington parlance.
"Listen, the House has done its job, both on the sequester and the looming debt fights that'll cost our economy some 700,000 jobs," Boehner said. "On both of these, where's the president, where's the leadership."
Obama has called for replacing the sequester with a combination of tax hikes and cuts elsewhere in the budget. But his call for higher taxes on upper bracket earners has been repeatedly rejected by Republicans.
Any real negotiations on avoiding the combination of fiscal austerity are not expected until after the November elections – and the outcome is sure to play a huge role in how the issue plays out in a post-election lame duck congressional session.