ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Until news broke of the Petraeus resignation, today's top story was the country's fiscal crisis. Across-the-board tax cuts will expire at year's end, and mandatory spending cuts will kick in. It's caused a post-election scramble to dodge this so-called fiscal cliff. Well, today, President Obama made clear any deal must include higher taxes for the wealthy. He also sounded an optimistic note pointing to remarks earlier today by the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I was encouraged to hear Speaker Boehner agree that tax revenue has to be part of this equation. So I look forward to hearing his ideas when I see him next week.
SIEGEL: Mr. Obama will discuss the fiscal crisis with congressional leaders next Friday. But as NPR's David Welna reports, Speaker Boehner is already drawing his own battle lines.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Today, for the second time since Tuesday's election, House Speaker Boehner summoned reporters to a nearly empty Capitol. Once again, the topic was what to do about the fiscal cliff.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: I don't want to box myself in. I don't want to box anybody else in. I think it's important for us to come to an agreement with the president, but this is his opportunity to lead.
WELNA: But if Boehner wants the president to lead, the speaker also wants to leave no doubt which direction he's willing to follow. And letting Bush-era tax cuts expire on income above a quarter million dollars, which is what the president's been calling for, is not what Boehner wants.
BOEHNER: Raising tax rates will slow down our ability to create the jobs that everyone says they want.
WELNA: Boehner says he is open to raising more revenue to cut deficits. But he says he wants to do it by cutting taxes even more.
BOEHNER: And by lowering rates and cleaning up the tax code, we know that we're going to get more economic growth. It'll bring jobs back to America. It'll bring more revenue.
WELNA: The Congressional Budget Office estimates that cleaning up the tax code could possibly bring in $100 billion a year in revenue, but that would be vastly exceeded by the cost of cutting taxes for everyone.
JACK PITNEY: Speaker Boehner is caught between fiscal arithmetic and political arithmetic.
WELNA: Congressional expert Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College says Boehner has been left in nearly an impossible situation given the two calculations that have to be made.
PITNEY: The fiscal arithmetic of the cliff and the political arithmetic of a recalcitrant group of Republicans in his own conference, so we'll have to see which kind of arithmetic prevails.
WELNA: Significantly, no other Republican leaders were present as Boehner laid out his position. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell put out his own statement today declaring, quote, "There is no consensus on raising tax rates." President Obama, though, said today, the American people made clear this week they want the wealthy to pay higher taxes.
OBAMA: In fact, the Senate has already passed a bill doing exactly this. So all we need is action from the House. And I've got the pen ready to sign the bill right away.
OBAMA: I'm ready to do it. I'm ready to do it.
WELNA: But if the president wants action from House Republicans, that may not come without some concessions. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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