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Obama, Boehner Still Talking, but No Closer

Speaker of the House John Boehner; photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Speaker John Boehner talks to reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have picked up the pace of their negotiations over the fiscal cliff, but they do not appear any closer to reaching an agreement to averting nearly $500 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts at year’s end.

Mr. Obama called the Republican leader Tuesday after receiving a counter-offer to a fresh proposal put forward by the administration on Monday. The conversation came two days after they met at the White House for their first one-on-one talks since the November election.

In terms of movement on the numbers, Mr. Obama reportedly reduced his demand on tax revenues to $1.4 trillion from $1.6 trillion over 10 years. That still leaves the two sides $600 billion apart and deadlocked over what to do about tax rates.

The president said Tuesday that he expected Republicans to back off their opposition to raising rates for the top 2 percent of wage earners.

“I’m pretty confident that Republicans would not hold middle-class taxes hostage to trying to protect tax cuts for high-income individuals,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters. (The full interview airs Friday night.)

The president also showed signs of flexibility when it comes to entitlement reform, refusing to rule out raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65.

“When you look at the evidence, it’s not clear that it actually saves a lot of money,” Mr. Obama said. “But what I’ve said is let’s look at every avenue, because what is true is we need to strengthen Social Security, we need to strengthen Medicare for future generations, the current path is not sustainable because we’ve got an aging population and health care costs are shooting up so quickly.”

While both sides have been tight-lipped about the details of the talks, the president described the tone of his Sunday meeting with Boehner as “good” and said “the outlines…of what a deal should look like are pretty straightforward.”

As the two leaders work to hammer out a deal behind the scenes, the speaker took to the floor of the House on Tuesday to publicly rebuke the president for not giving Republicans enough specifics on spending reductions.

“Where are the president’s spending cuts? The longer the White House slow-walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff,” Boehner said. “Now, if the president doesn’t agree with our approach, he’s got an obligation to put forward a plan that can pass both chambers of the Congress, because, right now, the American people have to be scratching their heads and wondering, when is the president going to get serious?”

White House press secretary Jay Carney, in turn, charged that the plan outlined by Republicans had a “total absence of any specificity” when it came to revenues.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that registered voters disapprove of Boehner’s performance. The survey showed “[n]early half of ‘very conservative’ Republicans and independents (49 percent) approve of how Boehner is handling the negotiations, but that number drops to 35 percent among those who are ‘somewhat conservative’ and further still — to 23 percent — among self-described ‘moderates,'” the Post’s team reports.

All the back-and-forth left Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to proclaim Tuesday that it would be “extremely difficult” to get a deal done before the Christmas holiday, which would give lawmakers a present none of them want: a return trip to Washington before the year is out.

On Tuesday’s NewsHour, Gwen Ifill talked with Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., as part of our series exploring differing voices about the fiscal cliff. Gwen asked the fiscally conservative lawmaker if her voice is being represented in the negotiations. Raising taxes on the wealthiest, Schwartz said, is “the beginning of the conversation. We have work to do on investments, income as well. … We would like to do work on the corporate side, on the business side as well.”

Watch the discussion here or below:


NewsHour reporter-producer Cassie M. Chew has an update on the inaugural festivities:

In less than six weeks, the country will host the 57th inaugural ceremony to mark the start of Mr. Obama’s second term in office. According to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, planning for the event is “on schedule and under budget.”

Schumer spoke Tuesday to a group of reporters as workers below sawed and hammered planks of various sizes for an all-wooden platform extending from the West Terrace of the U.S. Capitol. The platform is designed to safely accommodate the president and vice president along with about 1,600 lawmakers and the journalists covering the event. Workers also were building temporary bleachers to accommodate another 1,000 guests and entertainers.

Photo by Cassie M. Chew/PBS NewsHour

Schumer appeared with the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Steve Kerrigan, CEO of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Kerrigan led the planning for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

The swearing-in ceremony, parade from the Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and the inaugural luncheon — with a guest list featuring about 100 of the top political players in the country — are estimated to cost taxpayers $1.2 million. The Presidential Inaugural Committee will fund a dozen or more inaugural balls set before and after the main event through corporate and individual donations.

Inauguration Day is Jan. 21. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution requires the president-elect to take the oath of office at noon on Jan. 20., so Mr. Obama will be sworn in during a private ceremony that Sunday, a full day ahead of the public events. This is the seventh time the calendar allows for a ceremony on the 21st. This year’s public ceremony also will fall on the day that the country observes the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Schumer noted.

Kerrigan says the White House will allow the press to document the private ceremony, a sensitive subject since the media were not told about the mishap requiring Chief Justice John Roberts to swear in Mr. Obama a second time in 2009 until after the fact.

In 2009, the architect of the Capitol created a stadium design for the inaugural platform to improve sight lines from the Mall and is continuing with that design, according to the architect’s spokeswoman Eva Malecki.


  • CNN’s Peter Hamby reports that South Carolina GOP Gov. Nikki Haley has narrowed the list of possible replacements for Sen. Jim DeMint’s seat to five people. Among the names mentioned: Reps. Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy, and former South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford. Roll Call has more detail here.

  • The Hill’s Amie Parnes and Melissa Straughen find that Mr. Obama lags behind former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the pace of second-term appointments. (He hasn’t made any.) The New York Times’ Michael Shear notes that the administration is looking at more diversity for the second term Cabinet.

  • Politico has a slide show of Republicans open to higher taxes.

  • Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia defended his moral opposition to sodomy during a lecture at Princeton University.

  • The Washington Post’s Fact Checker Glenn Kessler attempts to answer the question about whether Karl Rove earned any money from American Crossroads.

  • Real Clear Politics’ Scott Conroy notices that Louisiana GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal is sparring with the teachers’ unions.

  • Politico’s David Rogers reports that the failure to get a farm bill approved by the end of the year could mean higher milk prices for American consumers.

  • Several spots are still open on the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics, Roll Call’s Amanda Becker reports.

  • Rol Call’s Jonathan Strong profiles the incoming chairman of the Republican Study Committee, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

  • Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., received a Batman snuggie from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, as part of the Senate’s holiday gift exchange. Leahy made cameos in the two latest Batman films, “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is unpopular back home.

  • Public Policy Polling finds Haley is trailing her 2010 opponent, Vincent Sheheen, in a hypothetical 2014 rematch.

  • Wednesday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA focuses on how much real estate the federal government owns. Of the more than 3 billion square feet of building space and 900,000 structures in the portfolio, a federal review showed there are “more than 45,000 underutilized buildings — including completely vacant properties — that cost the government $1.66 billion to operate in 2009.”

  • Yes, there is a Mean Girls of Capitol Hill Tumblr.


  • The NewsHour looked at the big picture as Michigan GOP Gov. Rick Snyder signed a new law making his a right-to-work state. Watch here or below:

(Hotline’s Josh Kraushaar has more on the national implications, and Politico’s Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman write that labor has plans to fight back.)

  • Hari Sreenivasan talked with Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent Paul Salopek about his seven-year, on-foot journey to walk some 21,000 miles, through deserts and tundras, across rainforests and cities, tracing the ancient path of human migration around the globe.

  • How safe are mobile apps for kids?

  • The next look at global cancer from PRI is here.

  • The NewsHour takes an in-depth look at Chinese dissident and artist Ai WeiWei.


Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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