President Obama called on Republican leaders Friday to support his plan to let taxes rise on income over $250,000 a year or to offer a clear alternative for averting the fiscal cliff that could win Democratic support.
As congressional leaders from both parties gathered for a high-stakes meeting at the White House, Obama put no new offers on the table, according to people familiar with the meeting --- dashing the expectations of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said repeatedly on Thursday that he was expecting a new offer and was prepared to review it.
Instead, Obama insisted that the package he outlined in a news conference last Friday would pass both the House and the Senate if Republican leaders would stop blocking the legislation and permit a majority of lawmakers in both parties to work their will. In addition to extending tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans, that package would keep unemployment benefits flowing to 2 million unemployed workers, protect millions of unsuspecting taxpayers from the bite of the costly alternative minimum tax and make other urgent policy changes.
If McConnell and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) fail to offer a reasonable counterproposal, these people said, Obama planned to demand that they permit an "up-or-down vote" on his proposal.
The president's uncompromising stance comes after senior Republican aides signaled Thursday that a different tax threshold -- set higher, at annual income above $400,000 -- would have a better chance of winning broad GOP support. It was not immediately clear whether the president's position would serve as a prelude to additional negotiations, or would serve to snuff out talks that had been proceeding quietly between his staff and senior aides to McConnell.
Obama has reason to believe that his proposal could win majority support in both chambers. The Senate approved a similar bill this summer to extend current tax rates on income under $250,000 a year. The House rejected such a bill. But in the days since the November election, which returned Obama to the White House and enhanced Democratic power on Capitol Hill, many House Republicans have expressed support for taking action to protect as many taxpayers as possible. If every House Democrat voted in favor of such a measure, only about 30 House Republicans would have to join them in order for the bill to pass.