The speaker of the House, John Boehner, is on the edge of the dreaded Washington fiscal cliff. And the big question is if the speaker will wind up as collateral damage, as his name and image are associated with an epic political fight.
So far, Boehner has publicly engaged in a war of words with President Barack Obama, who has vowed to keep his presidential campaign pledge to hike taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
Boehner has long lobbied for tax code reform as the ultimate answer to the problems, along with entitlement spending cuts.
The fiscal cliff received some discussion during the presidential election, but in the past month it has become the biggest topic in American politics—with Boehner as literally the face of the debate.
With every Google search about the topic, Boehner’s picture seems to appear with most of the stories from major media sources. Sometimes, his official House picture appears, but other times, editors pick an image of Boehner's face caught in a grimace or another unusual reaction.
The president will face his own intra-party problem in the coming weeks, since any likely budget compromise will include slowing annual increases to Social Security and raising the eligibility age for Medicare.
But for now, Boehner is under attack from liberals and conservatives alike after presenting a plan that includes some tax increases.
The fiscal cliff is the nickname for a combined set of tax changes and spending cuts that Congress agreed to last year during talks about raising the debt ceiling.
The tax-and-spend combination was believed to be so politically dangerous that a bipartisan group of Congress members, called the super committee, would be forced to work out a compromise.
Boehner was one of four congressional leaders who picked the 12 members of the super committee. However, in November 2011 the super committee announced it was passing on making a decision.
That led to the dreaded fiscal cliff going into effect in January 2013, as mandated under the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cliff will realize between $560 billion and $607 billion in deficit savings in the next fiscal year for the federal government. And about $400 billion of that savings comes from ending the Bush-era tax cuts and other tax-relief measures. The other savings come from cuts to about 1,000 government programs, including defense-budget cuts.
In recent days, Boehner has become the target of various members of his own Republican party, including Rand Paul, Jim DeMint, and even his Senate equivalent, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Added to the mix is conservative tax crusader Grover Norquist, who is threatening to defeat any candidate who votes for any tax increase in a compromise bill.
“Speaker Boehner’s $800 billion tax hike will destroy American jobs and allow politicians in Washington to spend even more, while not reducing our $16 trillion debt by a single penny,” DeMint said in a statement.
The Boehner plan would raise $800 billion in new unspecified “tax revenue” by closing tax loopholes. It also saves another $1.2 billion with cuts to entitlement and other government programs.
The Boehner plan is careful to state that no tax-rate increases are part of the proposal, which is called the “Two-Step Approach to Hold President Obama Accountable.”
In addition to being attacked by his own party members, some Democrats have been critical of Boehner, while others have told Boehner to encourage some GOP members to vote along with the Democrats.
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So far, public opinion seems to be on the side of the Democrats. A new Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll says 53 percent of Americans will blame the Republicans if the fiscal cliff becomes a reality, while 27 percent will blame the Democrats.
Only 40 percent of Americans believe the fiscal cliff will be averted by Congress by January.
That puts Boehner in the hot seat, with criticism from both parties and the public as motivating factors.
On Wednesday, he said it was President Obama’s job to come to the bargaining table.
"We're ready and eager to talk to the president and to work with him to make sure that the American people aren't disadvantaged by what's happening here in Washington," Boehner said at a conference.
"We need a response from the White House," he said. "We can't sit here and negotiate with ourselves."
President Obama on Tuesday repeated his desire for a tax increase on the wealthy.
"Let's let tax rates on the upper-income folks go up," Mr. Obama told Bloomberg Television. "And then let's set up a process with a time certain, at the end of 2013 or the fall of 2013, where we work on tax reform…and it's possible that we may be able to lower rates by broadening the base at that point."