House speaker expects 'bridge' on fiscal cliff

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio -- House Speaker John Boehner doesn't expect a grand bargain avoiding the fiscal cliff to materialize in a lame duck session of Congress, but that doesn't mean the country is headed over the edge. Instead, Boehner said Sunday, he thinks Congress and the White House will find a way to punt the looming deadlines on the debt ceiling, the Bush tax cuts and the budget sequester into 2013.

"Lame ducks aren't noted for doing big things. And frankly I'm not sure that lame ducks should do big things. So the most likely outcome would be some type of a bridge," Boehner said in an interview with National Journal Sunday, aboard a campaign bus taking him around Ohio in a final sprint before Election Day. "But the impact of the election is certainly going to have an impact on how this plays out."

"Fixing the tax code has to happen. Solving our debt crisis and our entitlement crisis, that has to happen. I would argue that fixing our regulatory environment in America has to happen. But I frankly believe all these things are going to happen regardless of who wins the election. The outcome of the election will have a big impact on what those fixes look like," he added.

Boehner said he spoke with President Obama briefly in September, and that he keeps lines of communication open with some Democrats in Congress. He has spoken to Democratic members of the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators who met recently at Mount Vernon to discuss a solution. But Boehner sounded skeptical of any chance at a successful resolution coming out of the Gang's discussions.

"I've talked to those guys. I don't know how they fit into this process," he said. "They've got the same challenge in the Gang that we have. It's just a matter of people getting serious."

Boehner said he still has hope for some kind of grand bargain, even if Congress has to punt it to the 113th session that begins in January. He said he maintains a "solid" relationship with both Democratic leaders and with President Obama. But he said the ball is in Democrats' court.

"The House has done its job. We passed a bill to replace the sequester back in May. It's sitting over in the Senate. We passed a bill in July to extend all the current tax rates. It's sitting over in the Senate. You know, at some point, the Senate can't just keep ducking and hiding. The Senate's got to produce something. I guess we'll have to see what they're able to produce," he said.

Some Democrats, notably Sen. Patty Murray, have suggested going over the fiscal cliff as a way to better the party's political hand. Boehner said Sunday that Congress could hypothetically fix the Bush tax cuts and sequester retroactively, but that time is short -- and the window for action is narrowing.

"There isn't a whole lot of time," he said. "One thing that nobody's quite recognized yet is that the AMT relief for this tax year has not been extended. That means instead of 4 million people getting hit by the AMT, alternative minimum tax, you're going to have 30 million Americans hit by the alternative minimum tax. And they're going to start filing by the end of January. The IRS is going to have to give them some forms. I don't know how that issue is dealt with."

In negotiations last summer over an increase in the debt ceiling, Boehner said he had put some of his party's sacred cows on the table.

"A year and a half ago, the president and I had long negotiations. I was willing to put revenue on the table in exchange for fundamental reform of the entitlement programs. And I don't mean trimming around the edges, I mean fundamental reform. If we're going to go solve this problem, let's go solve it. If we're going to rip the Band-aid off, let's rip it off," Boehner said.

But, he added: "I think it's important that we avoid the fiscal cliff, but that doesn't mean I'm interested in raising tax rates and killing jobs."
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