Commentary: Fiscal cliff talk turns to blame game

Erskine Bowles did have cause to worry.

A day after the co-chair of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reforms told Washington insiders that reaching a deal to avert the fiscal cliff is unlikely, lawmakers on Capitol Hill wasted no time to vent their frustrations and (no surprise) point blame at the opposing party.

Read more: Simpson-Bowles says probability of reaching ‘fiscal cliff’ deal before Dec. 31st is low 

The first shot was fired by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who complained that “Democrats have yet to get serious about real spending cuts.”

“No substantive progress has been made in the talks between the White House and the House over the last two weeks,” Boehner told reporters after his meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on Thursday. “I got to tell you I’m disappointed in where we are and disappointed in what’s happened over the last couple of weeks.”

Democrats, on the other hand, are blaming Republicans of impeding negotiations by not putting forward a “serious offer”on the revenue part of the equation.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner tells reporters, “Democrat have yet to get serious about real spending cuts,” after his meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on Nov. 29, 2012. SOURCE:

“It’s been weeks – at least two weeks – since we met at the White House, and we’re still waiting for a serious offer from the Republicans,” said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “Really, now is the time for the Republicans to move past this happy talk about revenues – ill-defined, of course – and put specifics on the table. The President’s made his proposal. We need a proposal from them.”

Read more: Obama intensifies pressure on House Republicans to extend middle-class tax cuts

The Democrats want House Republicans to pass the Senate’s bill to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for middle-class Americans but allow the tax cuts to expire for people earning more than $250,000 a year. Raising the tax rates for the top 2% of Americans would generate close to $1 trillion in additional revenues, according to Reid.

So far, the Republican leadership has refused to budge on taxes, insisting that the Bush tax cuts should be extended to everyone and that revenues should be raised only by eliminating tax expenditures (or various tax deductions and credits) and simplifying the tax code.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) accused Boehner of holding the middle-class tax cut hostage to appease the GOP’s Tea Party caucus.

“What we hear from him is all of his pain and frustration and angst dealing with the Tea Party and his own caucus. Well, there comes a point when he needs to look beyond his caucus to the House and to the nation, and he has a responsibility,” said Durbin. “The responsibility is to call up this measure that will protect 98% of Americans for a vote in the House of Representatives. He could do it this afternoon. He could certainly do it before we break for Christmas.”

Democrats also attacked Republicans for failing to put forward specific cuts in spending on programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

“If Republicans wish to have a spending cut component of the down payment, fine – the ball is in their court. What is it? We’ve been specific about our down payment. What’s theirs?” said Sen. Chuck Schumer. “So far they haven’t offered a single idea short of vouchering Medicare that we all know is off the table. The President’s budget contains over $300 billion in health savings. If Republicans don’t like those ideas, they should make a counter-offer. It’s silly to think the President is going to negotiate with himself on entitlements. We know that won’t happen. We are waiting for some specifics somewhere from our Republican colleagues to show that they’re serious on negotiations.”

When asked why Republicans wouldn’t just tell the Democrats the specific cuts they’d like to have, Boehner replied that the GOP had laid out the spending cuts in the Ryan budget.

In the past, President Barack Obama has criticized the Ryan budget as “thinly veiled social Darwinism”, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) pointed out that the Ryan budget was “resoundingly rejected” by voters in November.

“We know what the menu is. What we don’t know is what the White House is willing to do to get serious about solving our debt crisis,” explained Boehner. “Revenue is on the table. But revenue was only on the table if there is serious spending cuts as part of this agreement. It has to be part of the agreement. We have a debt crisis. We’re spending too much. And while we’re willing to put revenue on the table, we have to recognize it’s the spending that’s out of control.”


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