Obama, Boehner revisit the sunset provision on the Bush tax cuts
By Lori Montgomery
The battle over the Bush tax cuts moved to the Oval Office on Tuesday morning.
In a meeting with congressional leaders from both parties, President Obama reiterated his intention to ditch the portion of the cuts that benefit the wealthy when they expire in January, saying the country can't afford them.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) fired back that raising taxes on high earners means kicking many small businesses when they're trying to recover from the recession.
Aides in both parties said that Obama maintained his focus on the deficit, pointing out that the tax cuts, enacted in 2001 and expanded in 2003, were written in such a way to leave the next administration dealing with the thorny question of whether to extend them despite their impact on the deficit.
Boehner responded: "I wasn't there. I didn't structure that deal."
There followed a momentary silence. Boehner has been in Congress since 1991.
"How long have you been here?" someone asked. And the room burst into laughter.
Democratic aides accused Boehner of trying to deflect blame for the tax cuts, which are projected to add a total of nearly $3 trillion to deficits over the next decade. But a senior Republican aide said Boehner merely meant that he was not in House leadership during the negotiations. If he had been, the aide said, Boehner would have insisted that the cuts be made permanent.
The cuts were written to expire to allow the bill to pass Congress under fast-track budget rules, known as reconciliation, and avoid a filibuster in the Senate. Just like the final piece of Obama's health care overhaul, the tax cuts needed only 50 votes to win Senate approval, instead of the 60 required to shut down a filibuster.
Under reconciliation, legislation may not increase the deficit beyond a 10-year "budget window." Because the tax cuts would have increased the deficit, Republicans had to write them to expire in 2011.
Bill Thomas, the former GOP Ways and Means chairman who led negotiations over the legislation, said House Republicans indeed wanted to make the tax cuts permanent, but that the sunset provision had to be added to get them through the Senate.
"We didn't write them to expire in 10 years because we were worried about huge deficits. We wrote them that way because it was the only way to make law," Thomas said.
July 27, 2010; 7:10 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Economy
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