The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

November 7, 2012

'Fiscal cliff' clock starts as election fades to background

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

"Republicans face a choice, and the choice is theirs," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Md., the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee. "If they want to drive off the fiscal cliff, that means they want to go into January demanding that people like Mitt Romney get a bonus tax break or nobody gets any tax relief."

It was not clear how Republicans would respond. Late Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was expected to repeat his insistence that Republicans stand firm against any increase in taxes, especially for taxpayers who earn more than $250,000. That category includes many business owners.

Democrats said an Obama victory would give him a mandate on the tax issue because the promise to raise taxes on the wealthy was a centerpiece of his campaign. Some senior Republicans agree. For months, Republican tax aides have been at work on ideas for a potential compromise that would keep the top tax rate at 35 percent, as Republicans prefer, while enacting new provisions to extract about $55 billion next year from households earning more than $250,000 a year, meeting Obama's goal to raise taxes on top earners.

Republicans said such a deal, if possible, would hinge on Obama's willingness to rein in the cost of federal entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, the biggest drivers of future borrowing. Obama's most recent budget request proposed only modest trims to federal health-care programs, totaling about $360 billion, and no changes to Social Security.

Obama went further in 2011 budget negotiations with Boehner, offering to raise the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 and to apply a less-generous measure of inflation to Social Security benefits. However, liberal Democrats are opposed to those changes and others that reduce retirement benefits, while it is not clear that Republicans who have been demanding more fundamental restructuring of Medicare would view even those changes as a sufficient reason to raise taxes.

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