WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) signaled on Wednesday that the country is headed over the so-called fiscal cliff if the White House refuses to make further concessions on spending cuts, and he hinted at a debt ceiling showdown if President Barack Obama tries to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Boehner repeated his claim that raising tax rates for the wealthy would not resolve the nation’s fiscal crisis and that the real problem lies within the president’s refusal to get “serious” about cutting spending.
"The president wants to pretend spending isn't the problem. That's why we don't have an agreement," Boehner said. "Unfortunately, the White House is so unserious about cutting spending that it appears willing to slow-walk our economy right up to -- and over -- the fiscal cliff."
Democrats have continued to push for the passage of a standalone middle-income tax cut, but Boehner compared their desire to decouple the tax rates for most Americans from those of the top 2 percent to a Christmas fantasy.
"If ifs and buts were like candy and nuts then every day would be Christmas," he said.
But when pressed on the matter, the Ohio Republican didn’t explicitly say that he would not allow a bill decoupling tax cuts for those earning under $250,000 to be brought to the House floor, pivoting instead to the issue of spending.
“My goal is to get to an agreement with the president of the United States that addresses this problem,” Boehner said.
Boehner has faced mounting pressure from both sides as budget talks push closer to the looming Dec. 31 deadline, but the speaker of the House denied that he is stalling on a deal until after his reelection -- a theory floated in recent days by a number of leading Democrats. "I'm not concerned about my job as speaker," he said.
But Democrats suggested protecting his speakership might still be a factor, otherwise Boehner could bring the middle-income tax bill to the House floor.
"We sent the bill to him months ago that will protect 98 percent of American families, and yet he won't call it on the floor? What is he waiting for?” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) at a press conference Wednesday following Boehner’s statements. “Is he waiting for what's going to happen Jan. 1 when consumer confidence is shaken across America as everyone sees an increase in income tax rates including working families because John Boehner won’t act?"
"Is he waiting for Jan. 3 -- his election as speaker?" Durbin added. "I hope it's not that."
If Congress goes over the cliff and Republicans are forced to take the Democratic option, Boehner warned that the GOP would not go along with the idea that the president should have unilateral power to raise the debt limit.
"Congress is never going to give up our ability to control the purse," he said. "The debt limit ought to be used to bring fiscal sanity to Washington, D.C."
Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted that the White House has clearly laid out detailed spending cuts in its proposal, whereas it’s the GOP proposal that lacks specifics on the spending cuts Republicans themselves are seeking.
“It had more signatures than it had ideas,” Pelosi said of the letter submitted to the president by Boehner containing the GOP’s counteroffer.
She also slammed Congress for working two-day weeks instead of making a more concerted effort to forge a deal.
“Last week we went out on Wednesday morning. This week we’ll probably go out on Thursday morning after coming in on Tuesday,” Pelosi said. “Two two-day work weeks in a row. This is just not right.”
Automatic spending cuts and across-the-board tax-rate increases are set to kick in if negotiations to avert the fiscal cliff do not result in a deal by the end of the year, which some economists have warned could tip the nation's economy back into recession.