Fiscal Cliff Messaging Battle Shifts From Taxes To Spending

Public cat fights bely slow progress being made behind closed door.

Carolyn Kaster, File / AP

WASHINGTON — With an increase in taxes for the wealthy becoming increasingly likely, the rhetorical battle over the fiscal cliff Tuesday was moving into spending territory as Republicans and Democrats traded accusations over who was making what proposal.

Its become a familiar scene of the negotiations: one side accuses the other of refusing to come to the table with a “serious” plan, the other rejects that notion publicly, and all the while staff are behind the scenes slowly working out a basic structure for a final deal.

“We’re still waiting for the White House to identify what spending cuts the president is willing to make,” Speaker of the House John Boehner said from the floor Tuesday. “The longer the White House slow walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney essentially claimed Boehner was not telling the truth, calling it a “a simple fact” that Obama had produced the most detailed plans to cut the deficit on both the spending and revenue sides.

The truth lies somewhere in between the partisan rhetoric.

Obama put forward a deficit reduction plan to the so-called super committee last fall, a plan that was quickly ignored my members of the committee, which itself failed to reach agreement. Carney pointed to “pages 17 to 45” in Obama’s recommendation to the committee as outlining Obama’s plans for a fiscal cliff deal. Except Obama is backing away from at least one cost-saving proposal in the plan, and it only covers a fraction of the spending cuts likely to be included in a final deal.

In 2011 the White House proposed $577 billion in savings, by its own calculations, in “mandatory savings” and “health savings” from cutting agricultural subsidies and raising fees on general aviation aircraft to raising the Medicare Part B deductible.

The White House also points to Obama’s budget, which calls for $835 billion in spending cuts, with overlap between the two proposals. But the White House is walking away from nearly $100 billion of those proposals — from adjusting the way the federal government determines the amount it will contribute to Medicaid — after the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare.

A Boehner spokesman acknowledged that Obama had put forward spending proposals, but said they were not “balanced,” using a term Obama employs to call for tax increases on the rich.

“Specific, meaningful cuts that would make a plan “balanced,” the Boehner spokesman replied when asked for what constitutes an acceptable plan from the White House. “$1.6 trillion in revenue and $400 billion in cuts is nowhere in the neighborhood of balanced.”

White House aides say if Boehner wants more cuts than Obama has proposed, he should put them on the table.

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