Boehner, Obama Closer To A Fiscal Cliff Deal But Not There Yet

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Negotiations continued between the White House and House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday to avoid the fiscal cliff. Earlier in the day, Boehner prepared his fellow House Republicans for the likelihood that taxes will have to rise on top earners. He's also now talking about a "plan B" if talks fail to come to a deal. Tamara Keith joins Melissa Block from Capitol Hill.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. One week before Christmas and there's still no deal to avert the big tax increases and federal spending cuts slated for the end of the year. Today, House Speaker John Boehner is floating the idea of a backup plan if talks between him and the president break down.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: At the same time that we're going to continue to talk with the president, we're going to also move plan B.

BLOCK: Both sides say they're still optimistic an agreement can be reached and last night there were rumors swirling of a deal. But today, it's not clear where things really stand. NPR's Tamara Keith joins us now from Capitol Hill to try to sort this all out. And Tam, last we heard, the president had made an offer that seemed to get fairly close to what the House speaker, John Boehner, is asking for. What is the latest on the negotiations?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, neither side is saying much aside from their usual lines of communication remain open. But just to give you a sense of where things stood as of last night, you know, the president had been campaigning on the idea that tax rates should rise on income of more than $250,000 a year. The speaker had said no tax rates rise at all and then he agree late last week to allow rates to rise on people over a million dollars a year.

Then yesterday, the president offered what he called a midway point saying rates should rise on income of more than $400,000 a year.

BLOCK: And now there's talk, Tam, of plan B. What's the plan B?

KEITH: Well, plan B, it would lock in tax cuts for everyone making less than a million dollars a year. So this is basically Speaker Boehner's offer. It would also take care of a bunch of other year-end fixes like the alternative minimum tax and things like that. What it wouldn't do is deal with the other half of the so-called fiscal cliff, the sequester, those automatic across-the-board spending cuts set to hit early next year.

So it's a backup plan, but Speaker Boehner says he still thinks a deal with the president would be better for the country.

BOEHNER: But at this point, having a backup plan to make sure that as few American taxpayers are affected by this increase as possible, moving down that path is the right course of action for us.

BLOCK: And Tamara, what are you hearing as Speaker Boehner has gone to his caucus, to the Republicans in the House, to try to sell this possible deal? What is he hearing from them?

KEITH: He's actually getting a lot of support. Some of them say they like the idea of plan B better than the idea of a deal with the president. Others say that they think that a deal with the president would ultimately get them more, especially in terms of spending cuts, which is something that they're very concerned with.

BLOCK: And the response on the Democratic side?

KEITH: Oh, not so positive. It's been swift and negative. Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi says her members won't support it in the House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says it doesn't have a chance in the Senate. And White House spokesman Jay Carney said at his briefing today that it would be a mistake to abandon a larger deal now, now that they've come so far.

BLOCK: Tamara, in the end, do you think plan B is serious or is this yet another negotiating ploy?

KEITH: You know, it's a very serious effort by House Republicans to rebrand themselves, certainly, as the ones who want to help the middle class get a tax break and sort of break free of this charge that they're holding the middle class hostage to help the rich. And it also allows House Republicans to vote on something that they feel good about, which may then later allow them to vote on a deal with the president that they don't feel so good about.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Tamara Keith at the Capitol. Tamara, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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