GOP Demands Targeted Cuts as Fiscal Cliff Deadline Looms

Monday, 31 Dec 2012 10:51 AM

 

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BREAKING:

An emerging deal to avoid the U.S. "fiscal cliff" would raise $600 billion in revenue over the next 10 years by increasing tax rates for individuals making more than $400,000 and households making above $450,000 annually, a source familiar with the talks told Reuters Monday afternoon.

The deal would also delay a series of automatic government spending cuts, known as the "sequester," though a sticking point remains on how long that delay would last.

The White House is pressing for it to be delayed a full fiscal year and to include offsets made up of a mix of spending cuts and revenue, the source said.

The deal would permanently extend middle-class tax cuts for 114 million households and includes a permanent fix for the so-called "alternative minimum tax." It would extend unemployment insurance for 2 million people for one year.

The deal would raise the estate tax for estates worth $10 million per couple or more to 40 percent from 35 percent.

The agreement would return capital gains tax rates for individuals making $400,000 a year and couples making $450,000 a year to what they were under President Bill Clinton. Including a 3.8 percent tax from Obama's 2010 healthcare law, dividends and capital gains would be taxed at a rate of 23.8 percent.

The deal also prevents a 27 percent cut to reimbursements for doctors who see Medicare patients, known as the "doc fix," and does not include cuts from Obama's healthcare law to do so, according to the source.

Earlier story:

Working against a midnight deadline, negotiators for the White House and congressional Republicans narrowed their differences Monday on legislation to avert across-the-board tax increases.

Congressional officials familiar with talks between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said one major remaining sticking point was whether to postpone spending cuts that are scheduled to begin on Jan 1.

Republicans want to replace across-the-board reductions with targeted cuts elsewhere in the budget, and the White House and Democrats were resisting.

At the same time, Democrats said the two sides were closing in on an agreement over taxes. They said the White House had proposed blocking an increase for most Americans, while letting rates rise for individuals with incomes of $400,000 a year and $450,000 for couples, a concession from President Barack Obama's campaign call to set the levels at $200,000 and $250,000.

Any overall deal was also likely to include a provision to prevent a spike in milk prices with the new year, extend unemployment benefits due to expire and protect doctors who treat Medicare patients from a 27 percent cut in fees.

Both the House and Senate were on track to meet on the final day of the year, although there was no expectation that a compromise could be approved by both houses by midnight, even if one were agreed to.

Instead, the hope of the White House and lawmakers was to seal an agreement, enact it and send it to Obama for his signature before taxpayers felt the impact of higher income taxes or federal agencies began issuing furloughs or taking other steps required by spending cuts.

Regardless of the fate of the negotiations, it appeared all workers would experience a cut in their-home pay with the expiration of a two-year cut in payroll taxes.

Officials who described the negotiations did so on condition of anonymity, citing the confidential nature of the discussions.

A spokesman for McConnell, Don Stewart, said the Kentucky lawmaker and Biden "continued their discussion late into the evening and will continue to work toward a solution." Underscoring the flurry of activity, another GOP aide said the two men had conversations at 12:45 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Monday.

Unless an agreement is reached and approved by Congress by the start of New Year's Day, more than $500 billion in 2013 tax increases will begin to take effect and $109 billion will be carved from defense and domestic programs

Though the tax hikes and budget cuts would be felt gradually, economists warn that if allowed to fully take hold, their combined impact — the so-called fiscal cliff — would rekindle a recession.

"This whole thing is a national embarrassment," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Monday on MSNBC, adding that any solution Congress would swallow at this late stage would be inconsequential. "We still haven't moved any closer to solving our nation's problems."

In a move that was sure to irritate Republicans, Reid was planning — absent a deal — to force a Senate vote Monday on Obama's campaign-season proposal to continue expiring tax cuts for all but those with income exceeding $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.

In one sign of movement on Sunday, Republicans dropped a demand to slow the growth of Social Security and other benefits by changing how those payments are increased each year to allow for inflation.

Obama had offered to include that change, despite opposition by many Democrats, as part of earlier, failed bargaining with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, over a larger deficit reduction agreement. But Democrats said they would never include the new inflation formula in the smaller deal now being sought to forestall wide-ranging tax boosts and budget cuts, and Republicans relented.

"It's just acknowledging the reality," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said of the GOP decision to drop the idea.

There was still no final agreement on the income level above which decade-old income tax cuts would be allowed to expire. While Obama has long insisted on letting the top 35 percent tax rate rise to 39.6 percent on earnings over $250,000, he'd agreed to boost that level to $400,000 in his talks with Boehner. GOP senators said they wanted the figure hoisted to at least that level.

Senators said disagreements remained over taxing large inherited estates. Republicans want the tax left at its current 35 percent, with the first $5.1 million excluded, while Democrats want the rate increased to 45 percent with a smaller exclusion.

The two sides were also apart on how to keep the alternative minimum tax from raising the tax bills of nearly 30 million middle-income families and how to extend tax breaks for research by business and other activities.

Republicans were insisting that budget cuts be found to pay for some of the spending proposals Democrats were pushing.

These included proposals to erase scheduled defense and domestic cuts exceeding $200 billion over the next two years and to extend unemployment benefits. Republicans complained that in effect, Democrats would pay for that spending with the tax boosts on the wealthy.

"We can't use tax increases on anyone to pay for more spending," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

Both parties also want to block an immediate 27 percent cut in reimbursements to doctors who treat Medicare patients. Republicans wanted to find savings from Obama's health care bill as well as from Medicare providers, while Democrats want to protect the health care law from cuts.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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