Despite sporadic phone calls this week between the White House and his office, House Speaker John Boehner indicated Friday that talks over the looming fiscal crisis are making no progress as he questioned when President Obama "is going to take a step towards us."
Lawmakers have 25 days to reach a deal before sweeping tax hikes, followed by crushing spending cuts, kick in. At a press briefing at the close of another week in which a deal remained elusive, Boehner claimed he'd made a significant concession by putting revenue on the table -- Boehner has called for $800 billion in revenue over the next decade by limiting deductions for top earners and other changes. Boehner suggested he'd be willing to keep compromising, but accused the president of digging in his heels.
"I came out the day after the election to put revenues on the table, to take a step toward the president to try to resolve this," Boehner said. "When is he going to take a step towards us?"
Obama has insisted that, as part of any deal to avert the tax hikes and spending cuts next month, tax rates must rise on the top 2 percent -- which would include the top rate rising from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. Asked whether there could be a middle ground in which tax rates rise to a slightly lower rate than 39.6, Boehner said "there are a lot of things that are possible to put the revenue that the president seeks on the table."
"But," he added, "none of it's going to be possible if the president insists on his position, insists on my way or the highway."
What is the 'middle ground' in fiscal debate?
Could our fiscal calamity start a political revolution?
Former Sen. Simpson's 'Gangnam' appeal for fiscal sanity
Conservative House members being punished by GOP leadership?
Conservatives angry at House speaker over fiscal cliff talks
Obama says 'Aloha' from the fiscal cliff
Fiscal 'joke's' on the American people
Obama has frustrated Republicans with his call not just for tax rate hikes but additional stimulus spending, as well as unilateral authority to increase the debt ceiling, as part of a deal.
Boehner and fellow House Republican leaders put their counterproposal, which included the $800 billion in revenue, on the table Monday. Boehner said Friday that it's time for Obama "to come back to us with a counter-offer."
He said phone calls this week between their offices were pleasant but "just more of the same." Boehner accused Obama of using "a deliberate strategy to slow walk our economy right to the edge of the fiscal cliff."
At a press briefing shortly afterward, though, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi reiterated that her caucus is standing with the president.
She said it's important to raise the rate on top earners all the way up to 39.6 percent in order to reduce the deficit. Further, Pelosi suggested Republicans were the ones not making a good-faith effort at reaching a deal.
"Speaker Boehner says Democrats are 'slow walking the economy to the fiscal cliff.' Yet this is the same Republican leadership that had the House in session barely a day -- barely a full day this week," she said.
The lack of progress since the election has raised serious concern that Washington might not be able to avert the looming crisis. Asked in an interview earlier this week whether the administration would be willing to let that happen without an agreement to raise rates on top earners, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said "absolutely."
Asked about that comment Friday, Boehner called it "reckless talk."