U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans would be willing to agree to new revenue from a tax system that would generate faster economic growth and be accompanied by changes to entitlement programs.
Speaking to reporters in Washington a day after President Barack Obama’s re-election, Boehner of Ohio said all sides are “closer than many think” to being able to revise the U.S. tax code. The parties remain divided on what the top tax rate should be and on whether fresh revenue should come from tax increases or only from economic growth.
“We’re willing to accept new revenue under the right conditions,” Boehner said in a speech that sounded conciliatory and didn’t alter the Republican position on tax policy.
Boehner’s comments marked the start of political positioning and negotiations over what to do about the so-called fiscal cliff of $607 billion in combined tax increases and spending cuts. Lawmakers in both parties say they want to avoid the recession-causing cliff, though each side is warning that it’s the other party’s intransigence that must end.
After an election in which voters re-elected Obama and Republicans kept the House majority, Boehner said voters want lawmakers to work together. He effectively called for reopening the deficit talks that he and Obama had in 2011.
“My message today is not one of confrontation, but of conviction,” he said.
Vice President Joe Biden said the administration is prepared to work with the Republican leadership on “the two overarching problems right now,” the tax increases and automatic spending cuts scheduled to begin in January.
“There’s all kinds of potential to be able to reach a rational, principled compromise,” Biden told reporters traveling on his plane today.
Boehner said negotiations between the parties should be held to avert the tax increases and spending cuts. Boehner said he would seek concessions from Obama.
“The president must be willing to reduce spending and shore up entitlement programs that are the primary drivers of our debt,” he said.
Obama has called for higher tax rates for individuals making more than $200,000 a year and married couples making more than $250,000. Boehner emphasized Republican opposition to raising income tax rates.
Although he talked about approaches that would generate more revenue for the government, Boehner indicated such revenue would come from increased economic growth, or so-called dynamic scoring. That’s a position that Democrats don’t accept and that congressional scorekeepers don’t allow.
A Senate Democratic aide said while Boehner’s stated openness to new revenue was promising, the details he mentioned -- notably dynamic scoring -- weren’t sufficient. The aide wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about talks between party leaders.
Before the election, Republicans had taken the same position on taxes, calling for a one-year extension of expiring rates and an overhaul of the tax code that would generate more revenue through growth.
“We need to plan for a serious process, focused on substance, not on theatrics,” said Boehner, whose negotiations with Obama failed in 2011. “It will require weeks of work rather than a weekend of photo-ops.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters today that Democrats were “not going to mess with Social Security” as part of revisions to entitlement programs Republicans are seeking in exchange for revenue.
“We’re happy to deal with entitlements, but we’re not messing with Social Security,” Reid said, adding that he would oppose changes to the way benefit increases are calculated on an annual basis.
Former Republican aide Eric Ueland said Boehner’s comments were “a reflection of the practical reality that -- especially with the vote coming in from the markets today -- you can’t let things drift.”
“At least from the congressional Republican end of things, they are going to move as quickly as they can and as fully as they can to be as clear as they can about what they want on the fiscal and tax policy side,” Ueland, who was chief of staff to former Senator Bill Frist when the Tennessee Republican was majority leader, said in an interview.
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