US 'fiscal cliff' talks picking up pace
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The White House and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's office held more negotiations on Monday on ways to break the stalemate over the "fiscal cliff," steep tax hikes and budget cuts set to start kicking in next month.
Neither side gave any public signs that they were ready to give ground. And a House Republican leadership aide said, "There is no deal or anything like it" on resolving fiscal cliff issues.
On Capitol Hill, however, there were indications that preparations were under way for quick legislative consideration of a deal if one is reached soon.
The most discussed scenario - which remains nothing more substantial than that – has Democrats getting the tax increases on high earners they favor in exchange for significant concessions that would help reduce the costs of Medicare, the government healthcare program for seniors.
Democrats and Republicans next year would also work together on comprehensive tax reform aimed at bringing in more revenues to the government, in part by eliminating some tax breaks. As similar deficit reduction talks between Boehner and President Barack Obama in 2011 showed, negotiations that seem promising one day can fall apart the next.
And if Obama and Boehner were to tentatively agree on such a package, the two would have to sell the plan to Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the Senate and House.
According to one senior Democratic aide, the two sides also are talking about including an increase in U.S. Borrowing authority, which Obama wants before Congress wraps up for the year.
Without such authority, the Treasury is likely to hit its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit by year's end and run out of creative steps to stave off default as soon as mid-February.
Another sign of potential progress was a conciliatory opinion article published late Monday in The Wall Street Journal by Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. Portman, a former top budget official in the administration of President George W. Bush, wrote that while he disagrees with Obama's desire to raise taxes on high earners, "negotiations require give and take."
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