Published December 20, 2015
President Obama is running into a buzzsaw of Republican criticism that his latest call for a stopgap fix to avert automatic budget cuts is an unserious proposal that would once again lock in permanent tax hikes without addressing the country's spending.
The president went to Annapolis, Md., Wednesday to sell that and other policy proposals to Senate Democrats at their annual retreat. With Congress facing a March 1 deadline before sweeping defense and other cuts kick in, Obama on Tuesday said the best thing to do if they can't meet that deadline is to pass a package of "spending cuts and tax reforms" that would push off the deadline for a "few more months."
But Republican leaders roundly rejected the idea.
"At some point, Washington has to deal with its spending problem. Now, I've watched them kick this can down the road for 22 years that I've been here. I've had enough of it. It's time to act," House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday.
"It's just more of the same," House Republican Leader Eric Cantor told Fox News.
Cantor and others accused the president of once again "kicking the can" on the debt crisis -- and further, they claimed that after the fiscal-crisis deal yielded a tax rate increase on top earners, Obama and his Democratic allies are trying to squeeze in more tax hikes in lieu of spending cuts.
Republicans also want to replace the indiscriminate spending cuts set to hit March 1. But they want to replace them with other spending cuts.
"(Obama) wants to continue down the path of insinuating that somehow taxpayers have got to put more and more money in, when the problem is spending," Cantor said, urging the president to "lead" on the issue of passing a comprehensive replacement bill.
At issue are the spending cuts set into motion by the 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling. As part of that deal, Congress teed up more than $1 trillion in defense and other spending cuts unless lawmakers found an alternative that achieved similar deficit reduction. They didn't. Lawmakers, as part of the fiscal crisis deal at the end of 2012, delayed the automatic budget cuts for two months. The next deadline is March 1.
Obama, in a brief statement Tuesday at the White House, urged Congress to give itself time by passing another stopgap.
"There is no reason that the jobs of thousands of Americans ... not to mention the growth of the entire economy, should be put in jeopardy just because folks in Washington couldn't come together," Obama said
Noting that Congress is currently working on a broader package, Obama said "at the very least we should give them a chance to come up with this budget instead of making indiscriminate cuts now that would cost us jobs and significantly slow down our economy."
The move, though, raised renewed concerns among Republicans that Obama, after winning tax hikes on top earners during the fiscal-crisis talks, would push anew for more tax increases.
"We believe there is a better way to reduce the deficit, but Americans do not support sacrificing real spending cuts for more tax hikes," Boehner said in a statement.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell accused Obama of wanting to "delay" the cuts "for a few months with more permanent tax hikes at a time when American families are already feeling the pinch of the Obama economy."
He called on the president to propose "significant spending reforms."
"The clock is ticking. It's time to get serious," McConnell said.
Obama is not calling for increases in tax rates, like the kind enacted in the fiscal crisis deal. Rather, he wants to close loopholes and deductions to raise revenue.
But while Obama wants to use that revenue to close the deficit, some Republicans say that revenue should be used to, in turn, lower rates and boost the economy.
"I'm disappointed the president today attempted to unilaterally change the terms of the debate on tax reform," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said in a statement. "Tax reform does not mean closing loopholes to solely pay down the deficit. Tax reform means closing loopholes to primarily lower rates for working families in order to promote economic growth, which has the effect of increasing tax revenues for the federal government."
Meanwhile, lawmakers across Capitol Hill are putting out dueling proposals to deal with the March 1 deadline.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of liberal House Democrats, on Tuesday unveiled a bill that would cancel the looming spending cuts and replace them with tax hikes. It would also cut $300 billion from the Pentagon and divert it to "job creation."
House Republicans are sure to oppose the bill.
Republicans on the armed services committees in both chambers unveiled a proposal of their own on Wednesday. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., introduced a bill that would replace the cuts for one year, by reducing the federal workforce and imposing a pay freeze on Congress.
The automatic cuts add up to roughly $1 trillion over 10 years. While many lawmakers are still committed to achieving that level of deficit reduction and more, the fact that half the cuts hit the Pentagon -- which is already dealing with cutbacks -- and the other half hit domestic programs favored by Democrats has made the current course unpalatable in Washington.
For more than a year, though, lawmakers have been unable to figure out an alternative that is amenable to both sides.