WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared Friday that "we're almost nowhere" near a deal to avoid the fast approaching fiscal cliff, lashing out at President Barack Obama for insiting on higher taxes for the wealthy.
Speaking after Obama made a pitch in Pennsylvania to let tax rates rise for the top 2 percent of earners, the GOP leader insisted the widely divergent postions expressed by both sides were not just posturing and negotiating points, but represented a genuine deadlock.
"There's a stalemate. Let's not kid ourselves," Boehner told reporters on Capitol Hill, insisting his side was doing all it could to find an agreement. "I'm not trying to make this more difficult. If you've watched me over the last three weeks, I've been very guarded in what I have to say, because I don't want to make it any harder for me or the president or members of both parties to be able to find common ground."
But he suggested the White House was making it harder after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner traveled to the Hill Thursday to essentially re-offer the the same deal the White House started with just after the election when it suggested that about $1.6 trillion in tax revenue needed to be raised to go along with Medicare cuts.
"The White House spends three weeks trying to develop a proposal and they send one up here that calls for $1.6 trillion in new taxes, calls for a little, not even $400 billion in cuts, and they want to have this extra spending that's actually greater than the amount they're willing to cut," Boehner said, referring to unemployment benefits and infrastructure spending Obama wants. "It was not a serious proposal. And so right now we're almost nowhere."
Boehner also insisted he had taken a risk by suggesting revenue should be raised, even if he did not specify what revenue, and he maintains that tax rates should not rise on anyone.
"We're willing to put revenues on the table, but revenues that come from closing loopholes, getting rid of special interest deductions, and not raising rates -- what we think is better for the economy, pure and simple," Boehner said.
Obama struck a more hopeful tone during a stop to visit a factory, but he also tried to keep pressure on Boehner by appealing directly to the public.
"I believe both parties can and will work together in the coming weeks to get that done. We know how that gets done. We're going to have to raise a little more revenue. We've got to cut out spending we don't need, building on the trillion dollars of spending cuts we've already made," Obama said.
"But, you know, in Washington, nothing's easy," he added. "There is going to be some prolonged negotiations. And all of us are going to have to get out of our comfort zones to make that happen. I'm willing to do that."
Obama put the onus on the GOP to get out of their comfort zone and let tax rates rise on income above $250,000, while keeping them lower for people making less.
"There are two things that can happen," Obama said. "If Congress does nothing, every family in America will see their income taxes automatically go up on January 1st. Every family, everybody here, you'll see your taxes go up on January 1st."
"I'm assuming that doesn't sound too good to you," Obama added. "That's a Scrooge Christmas."
The average family of four would see taxes go up about $2,000 for the year, Obama said.
The so-called fiscal cliff starts then, when the Bush-era tax cuts expire and the government is supposed to start making spending cuts mandated in last year's debt ceiling deal. Economists warn that if both the tax hikes and budget cuts take effect, the nation could slide back into recession. Raising taxes on top earners is estimated to raise about $800 billion in revnue over a decade.
UPDATE: 3:05 p.m. -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi offered her own way to break the apparent stalemate by taking matters out of Boehner's hands. She pointed out Friday that the Senate already passed a bill in July that would accomplish Obama's goal by extending lower tax rates for the middle class but not the wealthy.
Pelosi called on House Republican leadership to bring that legislation to the floor next week and threatened that if they do not schedule a vote on the Senate bill, Democrats will file what's known as a discharge petition on Tuesday to force a vote on the measure in her chamber. If Democrats successfully obtain 218 signatures on the discharge petition, it would automatically force the middle income tax cut bill to the floor for a vote.
"We believe that not [bringing the Senate bill to the floor] would be holding middle income tax cuts hostage to tax cuts for the rich," Pelosi said, "tax cuts for the rich which do not create jobs, just increase the deficit, heaping mountains of debt onto future generations."
"This is really very important," she added, noting that the middle income tax cut extension is just one piece of what needs to be done before the holidays.
"The other part of it of course is to avoid going over the fiscal cliff," she said. "You've heard much said about what happens if we do. Let's dwell instead on what happens if we do not go over the cliff. There's so much confidence that will go forth to the markets, to consumers, so much good that can come of it in terms of growing the economy to create jobs."
Pelosi recognized that in order for a discharge petition to be successful, Democrats would need the support of some House Republicans. She noted that some GOP members have opened up to the idea of decoupling the Bush era tax cuts and extending just those for the middle class and not the wealthy. But when asked if any of those Republicans had told her they would sign a discharge petition, Pelosi said they had not.
She also responded to Boehner's assertion that fiscal cliff talks had reached a stalemate.
"I hope not," Pelosi said. "Maybe that's a figure of speech."
CORRECTION: This post has been updated to correctly reflect Boehner's position is House Speaker.