If Cut, Fiscal Deal Will Pale Against Expectations

By Jim Kuhnhenn

WASHINGTON -- Whether negotiated in a rush before the new year or left for early January, the fiscal deal President Barack Obama and Congress cobble together will be far smaller than what they initially envisioned as an alternative to purposefully distasteful tax increases and spending cuts.

Instead, their deal, if a deal they indeed cut, will put off some big decisions about tax and entitlement changes and leave other deadlines in place that will likely lead to similar moments of brinkmanship, some in just a matter of weeks.

Republican and Democratic negotiators in the Senate were hoping for a deal as early as Sunday on what threshold to set for increased tax rates, whether to keep current inheritance tax rates and exemptions and how to pay for jobless benefits and avoid cuts in Medicare payments to doctors.

An agreement would halt automatic across-the-board tax increases for virtually every American and perhaps temporarily put off some steep spending cuts in defense and domestic programs.

Gone, however, is the talk of a grand deal that would tackle broad spending and revenue demands and set the nation on a course to lower deficits. Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner were once a couple hundred billion dollars apart of a deal that would have reduced the deficit by more than $2 trillion over 10 years.

Republicans have complained that Obama has demanded too much in tax revenue and hasn't proposed sufficient cuts or savings in the nation's massive health care programs.

In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" that aired Sunday, Obama upped the pressure on Republicans to negotiate a fiscal deal, arguing that GOP leaders have rejected his past attempts to strike a bigger and more comprehensive bargain.

"The offers that I've made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me," Obama said. The interview was taped Saturday while aides to the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) were engaged in negotiations in the Capitol in hopes of having something to present senators as early as Sunday.

"I was modestly optimistic yesterday, but we don't yet see an agreement," Obama said, referring to his mood Friday. "And now the pressure's on Congress to produce."

The trimmed ambitions of today are a far cry from the upbeat bipartisan rhetoric of just six weeks ago, when the leadership of Congress went to the White House to set the stage for negotiations to come.

"I outlined a framework that deals with reforming our tax code and reforming our spending," Boehner said as the leaders gathered on the White House driveway on Nov. 16.

"We understand that it has to be about cuts, it has to be about revenue, it has to be about growth, it has to be about the future," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said at the time. "I feel confident that a solution may be in sight."

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