Obama and Boehner talk -- but not to each other
HATFIELD, Pa. -- The key players in a looming budget crisis talked to news cameras Friday rather than to each other, each accusing the other side of blocking progress.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Friday that budget talks with the White House to avert the so-called fiscal cliff were "nowhere" as his aides called an Obama administration's budget proposal "unserious." President Obama, meanwhile, visited a Pennsylvania toy factory, where he accused congressional Republicans of holding lower income-tax rates for the middle class "hostage" to prevent tax hikes on higher incomes.
Boehner, who panned Obama's offer when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner presented it to him Thursday, chastised the president Friday for going on the road instead of sitting at the negotiating table.
"There's a stalemate here. Let's not kid ourselves," Boehner said. "Right now, we're almost nowhere."
Boehner said he'd been operating in good faith with the White House, and he expressed annoyance at what he considers foot-dragging by the administration.
"So the day after the election I said the Republican majority would accept new revenue as part of a balanced approach that includes real spending cuts and reforms," he said. "Now, the White House took three weeks to respond with any kind of proposal. And much to my disappointment, it wasn't a serious one."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., signaled Friday that Geithner's proposal was a starting point, not the final product from the White House and congressional Democrats.
"This is a democratic process," Hoyer said. "They have views, and we're going to have to accommodate their views, and hopefully they're going to have to accommodate our views."
He added: "I don't think it's a take-it-or-leave-it offer. I think it is, frankly, responsive to what the Republicans said they wanted, which is a specific offer."
Obama used his campaign-style stop in an industrial park just outside Philadelphia to press Republican leaders on Capitol Hill to send him a bill that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts to the first $250,000 of income. He said that would prevent tax rates on all Americans from rising Jan. 1 and would give lawmakers more time to address longer-term problems, such as the country's deepening budget deficit.
"I'm hopeful, but I'm going to need folks like you people here in Hatfield, in Pennsylvania and all across this country to get this done," the president said. "It's not acceptable to me, nor is it acceptable to you, for just a handful of Republicans to hold middle-class tax cuts hostage simply because they do not want tax rates on upper-income folks to go up."
The trip to The Rodon Group manufacturing facility came as the congressional Republican leadership derided as unrealistic Obama's proposal to avert the fiscal cliff by raising $1.6 trillion through tax increases over 10 years, spending billions more to stimulate the economy and instituting a permanent solution to the fights over raising the nation's debt ceiling. Unless the White House and Congress agree on a plan, the Bush-era tax cuts will expire at the end of December and $109 billion in automatic federal-spending reductions -- called a sequester -- will take effect Jan. 2.
"In Washington, nothing's easy, so there's going to be some prolonged negotiations," Obama told the audience of workers and company executives. He added that "all of us are going to have to get out of our comfort zones to make that happen," though Republicans say his proposal offers little in the way of compromise.
If the politicians' patience is wearing thin, so is the American public's. Few in the audience at the president's rally said they had much tolerance for the back and forth in the nation's capital.
"Frankly, everyone's a little worried and tired of hearing about it," said Robert Ulmer, 58, a mold maker at the factory. "People would feel better about Christmas without this."
Ulmer, who voted for Obama, said he thought Republicans who said the president should've stayed in Washington to negotiate might have a point, given the cost of the trip, "with the security and all."
Still, Ulmer said he expected a deal to be forged before Christmas -- or New Year's Eve.
"I don't think either side can afford not to," Ulmer said. "Obama doesn't want to be Herbert Hoover, two recessions on his watch. They'll get it done."