As reported in The Hill 12/03/12 bt=y Russell Berman
House Republican leaders on Monday made a counteroffer to President Obama in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, proposing to cut $2.2 trillion with a combination of spending cuts, entitlement reforms and $800 billion in new tax revenue.

The leaders delivered the offer to the White House on Monday with a three-page letter signed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and four other senior House Republicans, including Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the party’s just-defeated vice presidential nominee.

The White House rejected the offer as insufficient in a statement released about two hours after Boehner made the offer public. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer in a statement said the GOP proposal was unbalanced on the key issue of taxes on wealthier households, and that it also lacked detail.

Republican officials said the offer was based on a proposal outlined by Erskine Bowles, who served as chief of staff to former President Clinton, in testimony last year before the congressional “supercommittee” on deficit reduction. That offer is distinct from the widely cited Simpson-Bowles deficit plan released two years ago.

 

The GOP offer is a response to Obama’s opening bid, which called for $1.6 trillion in tax increases and reducing the power of Congress to block an increase in the debt ceiling.

“What we are putting forward is a credible plan that deserves serious consideration by the White House,” Boehner told reporters in a brief appearance at the Capitol. He said he hoped the administration would respond in a timely manner.

He characterized it as a response to what he called the “la-la land” offer that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner presented to congressional leaders last week.

The Speaker last spoke to Obama on Wednesday and indicated he did not plan to personally present his offer to the president. “I think the letter’s appropriate,” he said.

Boehner is scheduled to attend the White House holiday party on Monday evening. Asked if he might speak to Obama there, the Speaker smiled and replied: “I might run into him.”

The Republican counteroffer does not include an increase in the debt ceiling, but a GOP aide said the party remained open to negotiating additional borrowing authority for the Treasury before the end of the year. The nation is expected to reach its borrowing limit by mid-February at the latest.

Republican officials said their offer amounted to $4.6 trillion in deficit reduction when compared directly to the White House offer, which they emphasized was more than what the White House had put on the table.

In its own deficit plan, the White House counts legislation that has already been enacted, savings from future interest on the debt and savings from the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans do not count those as new savings, so their offer amounts to $2.2 trillion in future deficit reduction.

The $800 billion in new tax revenue matches what Boehner offered Obama during their 2011 negotiations for a grand bargain. Republicans are keeping to their opposition to tax rate increases, and aides said Monday they believe that $800 billion can be raised from the wealthy through other means, which their offer does not specify.

Senior Republican aides argued that their offer represented a “fair middle ground” because, unlike the White House, they did not use their budget proposal as their opening bid. The House budget contains no revenue increases and included far-reaching changes to Medicare and Medicaid that Democrats consider non-starters.

“We’re not doing that today, because we don’t have time,” one top GOP aide said, speaking during a background briefing on the condition of anonymity.

Republicans have complained that the White House waited three weeks to present its offer to avoid the fiscal cliff at year’s end, which they panned as “not serious.”

In addition to the $800 billion in revenue, the Republicans are proposing $600 billion in health savings, $300 billion in savings from other mandatory spending and $300 billion in further cuts to discretionary spending.

The GOP is also proposing to raise $200 billion through changes to the way inflation is calculated for the purpose of determining benefits and tax policy across a range of programs, including $200 billion. The offer is consistent with a framework that leaders in both parties have agreed to: averting the looming tax hikes and spending cuts with a “down payment” of deficit reduction while settling on targets for tax and entitlement reform in 2013.

The Republican proposal does not specify what would be immediately enacted as a down payment, and aides said it could replace the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that are set to begin taking effect next year, although it does not explicitly eliminate them.

While the offer only specifies targets for entitlement reform, aides said they would likely include means testing of Medicare and raising the age of eligibility, which they noted have been at the center of deficit reduction talks for years.

“It’s not as if we have had no conversations over the past few years,” an aide said.

Pfeiffer faulted the GOP for raising rates on the wealthy and sticking the middle class with the bill.

“Their plan includes nothing new and provides no details on which deductions they would eliminate, which loopholes they will close or which Medicare savings they would achieve,” Pfeiffer said.” While the President is willing to compromise to get a significant, balanced deal and believes that compromise is readily available to Congress, he is not willing to compromise on the principles of fairness and balance that include asking the wealthiest to pay higher rates.”

The House counteroffer drew immediate praise from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who issued a statement calling it a “good-faith effort to find common ground.”

“While the president hasn’t moved an inch away from his efforts to please his radical left-wing base, the Speaker has consistently shown a good-faith effort to find common ground and a realistic approach to solving the very real economic problems facing our country,” McConnell said. “If the president is serious about joining us in an effort to reduce the deficit and protect the economy, he’ll get off the campaign trail, drop the left-wing talking points, and instruct his staff to negotiate a solution in good faith based on actual written proposals. In short, he’ll begin doing what leaders do: Lead.”

The letter, sent by the full House leadership, along with Ryan, indicates Boehner has the full support of key players in his conference.

“This is by no means an adequate long-term solution, as resolving our long-term fiscal crisis will require fundamental entitlement reform,” the leaders wrote in their letter to Obama. “Indeed, the Bowles plan is exactly the kind of imperfect, but fair middle ground that allows us to avert the fiscal cliff without hurting our economy and destroying jobs. We believe it warrants immediate consideration.

“If you are agreeable to this framework,” they continue, “we are ready and eager to begin discussions about how to structure these reforms so that the American people can be confident that these targets will be reached.”

—This story was posted at 3 p.m. and last updated at 5:01 p.m.

 

Here is the full text of the GOP letter to Obama:

December 3, 2012 The President The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

After a status quo election in which both you and the Republican majority in the House were re-elected, the American people rightly expect both parties to come together on a fair middle ground and address the nation’s most pressing challenges.

To that end, shortly after the election, we presented you with a balanced framework for averting the fiscal cliff by coupling spending cuts and reforms with new tax revenue.  We then welcomed Secretary Geithner to the Capitol on November 29 with every expectation that he would lay out a similarly reasonable path.

Regrettably, the proposal he outlined on behalf of your Administration contains very little in the way of common ground.   The proposal calls for $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue, twice the amount you supported during the campaign.  The proposal also includes four times as much tax revenue as spending cuts, in stark contrast to the “balanced approach” on which you campaigned.  While administration officials are claiming that this proposal contains 2.5 dollars of spending cuts for each dollar in new revenue, counting as part of this ratio previously enacted savings – as if these were new spending reductions – only confuses the public debate.  What’s worse, the modest spending cuts in this offer are cancelled out by the additional ‘stimulus’ measures the Administration is requesting.  And, this proposal would remove any and all limits on federal borrowing.

We cannot in good conscience agree to this approach, which is neither balanced nor realistic.  If we were to take your Administration’s proposal at face value, then we would counter with the House-passed Budget Resolution.  It assumes an overhaul of our tax code with revenue remaining at historically normal levels and proposes structural reforms to preserve and protect the Nation’s entitlement programs, ensuring they are sustainable for the long-term rather than continuing to grow out of control.  Some of its key reforms include:

The House-passed Budget Resolution assumes enactment of structural Medicare reform that offers future beneficiaries guaranteed coverage options, including a traditional fee-for-service Medicare plan.  This proposal is based on recent bipartisan efforts and would provide greater support for the poor and the sick and less support for the wealthy.  We achieve these reforms in Medicare without affecting current seniors or those nearing retirement.  This would slow the projected explosive spending growth in this program and eventually maintain Medicare spending as a share of the economy at 4.75 percent, thus saving the program for future generations.

The House-passed Budget Resolution reforms Medicaid and provides states with greater flexibility to better deliver health security to beneficiaries, saving the federal government nearly $800 billion over 10 years.

Separate from savings in our proposal for the 2010 health care law, the House-passed Budget Resolution envisions hundreds of billions in savings in other mandatory spending, including reforms to Federal employee compensation and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. These reforms are, in our view, absolutely essential to addressing the true drivers of our debt, and we will continue to support and advance them.  At the same time, mindful of the status quo election and past exchanges on these questions, we recognize it would be counterproductive to publicly or privately propose entitlement reforms that you and the leaders of your party appear unwilling to support in the near-term.

With the fiscal cliff nearing, our priority remains finding a reasonable solution that can pass both the House and the Senate, and be signed into law in the next couple of weeks.  The best way to do this is by learning from and building on the bipartisan discussions that have occurred during this Congress, including the Biden Group, the Joint Select Committee, and our negotiations leading up to the Budget Control Act.

For instance, on November 1 of last year, Erskine Bowles, the co-chair of your debt commission, presented the Joint Select Committee with a middle ground approach that garnered praise from many fiscal watchdogs and nonpartisan experts.  He recommended that both parties agree to a balanced package that includes significant spending cuts as well as $800 billion in new revenue.

Notably, the new revenue in the Bowles plan would not be achieved through higher tax rates, which we continue to oppose and will not agree to in order to protect small businesses and our economy.  Instead, new revenue would be generated through pro-growth tax reform that closes special-interest loopholes and deductions while lowering rates.  On the spending side, the Bowles recommendation would cut more than $900 billion in mandatory spending and another $300 billion in discretionary spending.  These cuts would be over and above the spending reductions enacted in the Budget Control Act.

This is by no means an adequate long-term solution, as resolving our long-term fiscal crisis will require fundamental entitlement reform.  Indeed, the Bowles plan is exactly the kind of imperfect, but fair middle ground that allows us to avert the fiscal cliff without hurting our economy and destroying jobs.  We believe it warrants immediate consideration.

If you are agreeable to this framework, we are ready and eager to begin discussions about how to structure these reforms so that the American people can be confident that these targets will be reached.

Again, the American people expect their leaders to find fair middle ground to address the nation’s most pressing challenges.  To achieve that outcome, we respectfully request that you respond to this letter in a timely fashion and hope that you will refrain from any further action that would undermine good-faith efforts to reach a reasonable and equitable agreement in this critical matter.

Sincerely,

John Boehner, Speaker Eric Cantor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican Conference Chairman Dave Camp, Chairman, Committee on Ways and Means Paul Ryan, Committee on the Budget Fred Upton, Committee on Energy & Commerce