Quickly pivoting the political conversation from President Obama’s reelection to Washington’s looming budget battles, House Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday offered a potential path to compromise, saying Republicans are “willing to accept new revenue” to tame the soaring national debt and avert an ugly battle over the approaching “fiscal cliff.”
With Obama’s decisive electoral victory and Republicans’ hold on the House, with a slightly smaller majority, Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday’s election amounted to a plea from voters for the parties to lay down their weapons of the past two years and “do what’s best for our country.”
“That is the will of the people. And we answer to them,” Boehner said at an afternoon news conference at the Capitol. “For purposes of forging a bipartisan agreement that begins to solve the problem, we’re willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions.”
In phone calls made overnight and this morning from Chicago, Obama said much the same thing to Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). He said he believed that the American people sent a message that leaders in both parties need to put aside their partisan interests and work with common purpose to put the interests of the American people and the American economy first.
While Boehner suggested that Republicans would still oppose Obama’s plan to take “a larger share of what the American people earn through higher tax rates,” he said the party is open to “increased revenue . . . as the byproduct of a growing economy, energized by a simpler, cleaner, fairer tax code, with fewer loopholes, and lower rates for all.”
It was not immediately clear whether Boehner meant that Republicans would acquiesce only to fresh revenues generated through economic growth rather than actual tax increases. Republicans have long argued that reforming the tax code would generate revenue by improving the economy, an assertion that budget analysts say is difficult to measure. Democrats have insisted that any deal must include tax code changes that would add to government coffers whether or not they help the economy.
But Boehner hinted that he is open to the latter, citing a Republican offer during the negotiations of the congressional supercommittee last fall, as well as his own negotiations with Obama during the 2011 debt-limit battle. At that time, Boehner had tentatively agreed to support $800 billion in additional revenue over the next decade in exchange for Obama’s commitment to let the top tax rate fall below the current 35 percent. Obama and other Democrats have long insisted that the George W. Bush-era tax cuts should be permitted to expire for the nation’s top earners, raising the top rate to 39.6 percent.
Boehner mentioned his negotiations with Obama in the speech Wednesday, saying: “We’re closer than many think to the critical mass needed legislatively to get tax reform done.”