WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner wants his "grand bargain" back.
Moving quickly to put a disappointing election behind him, the Ohio Republican turned Wednesday to the fast-approaching "fiscal cliff" -- the paired economic threats of mandated trillion-dollar budget cuts that start Jan. 2 and expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts on Jan. 1.
Congressional number-crunchers have predicted the possibility of a new recession if both events come to pass.
Democrats have already proposed trying to deal with the matter quickly, in the lame-duck session of Congress that starts next week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said earlier that it was fairly simple to avoid the cliff if the GOP would accept the popular idea of letting tax cuts expire only for income above $250,000.
But Boehner signaled in a speech on Capitol Hill that he was unwilling to embrace the Democratic vision and that he was unwilling to move hastily, suggesting that he and President Barack Obama should go back to common ground they nearly found last year during the bitter debt limit battle.
"The American people this week didn't give us a mandate to do the 'simple' thing," Boehner said. "They elected us to lead."
Boehner did not offer specifics, but suggested the possibility of passing some sort of stopgap to avoid economic calamity while moving toward a permanent fix. That fix would include lowering overall tax rates, eliminating tax loopholes and taking some sort of whack at Social Security and Medicare. Democrats have adamantly opposed cutting benefits in either program, although they have indicated a willingness to make some changes.
"We're closer than many think to the critical mass needed legislatively to get tax reform done," Boehner said. "The president and I talked extensively about it during the summer of 2011."
Many Democrats who learned of the broad outlines of the aborted Boehner-Obama deal after the fact did not like it because it actually raised little in the way of new revenue and was weighted toward cuts.
Boehner repeated that he is still open to new revenue, but only revenue that comes from a growing economy, which he said would emerge from lowering tax rates and simplifying the tax code.
The speaker added even that revenue would only be supported by his party as a concession granted in return for cuts. "In order to garner Republican support for new revenues, the president must be willing to reduce spending and shore up the entitlement programs that are the primary drivers of our debt," Boehner said.
"The question we should be asking is not 'which taxes should I raise to get more revenue,' but rather 'which reforms can we agree on that will get our economy moving again?'" Boehner added.
Democrats seem to think they hold the upper hand on the tax question, and Reid noted that exit polls from Tuesday's elections found about six in 10 American favoring the Democratic approach.
Nevertheless, Boehner pledged long, careful deliberations.
"For this to work, we need to plan for a serious process, focused on substance, and not theatrics," the speaker said. "It will likely require weeks of work, rather than a weekend of photo ops. It won't happen around a campfire at Camp David, in a secret room at an Air Force base or, as much as I'd like it, over 18 holes of golf."