Boehner: Obama "has to lead" on taxes, immigration

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AP Photo/Susan Walsh

After taking some big hits in the 2012 elections, Republicans face more pressure to work with President Obama on big issues like the so-called "fiscal cliff" and immigration reform, but House Speaker John Boehner today said it was up to the president to forge bipartisan paths forward on these issues.

"This is an opportunity for the president to lead," Boehner said in a press conference with respect to the fiscal cliff -- an issue that must be addressed before 2103. "This is his moment to engage the Congress and work toward a solution that can pass both chambers."

Boehner: Fiscal cliff is Obama's "moment" to lead

The "fiscal cliff" refers to a series of tax increases and spending cuts slated to go into effect on Janary 1, potentially sending the U.S. into another recession. It includes the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and the expiration of the payroll tax holiday that Mr. Obama instituted. Around $1.2 trillion in cuts to both defense and non-defense programs are also set to kick in on January 1 unless Washington acts.

Boehner today maintained that Republicans want to avert the fiscal cliff without raising any taxes and "in a manner that ensures that 2013 is finally the year that our government comes to grips with the major problems that are facing us." Next year, he said, "should be the year we begin to solve our debt through tax reform and entitlement reform."

The speaker added that he had a "cordial," short conversation with Mr. Obama earlier this week and is hopeful that "productive conversations" can begin soon on the fiscal cliff. As he has for more than a year, Boehner said that he's open to creating more tax revenue, by closing tax loopholes and eliminating some deductions, just not raising tax rates.

Raising taxes, he said, "would slow down our economy. The number one issue in the election was about the economy and jobs... Raising tax rates will slow down our ability to create the jobs everyone says they want."

According to a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, there's little difference between the economic impact of pursuing Mr. Obama's preferred plan and the Republicans' preferred plan. Extending all of the tax rates that expire next year, except for the payroll tax cut, while indexing the AMT to inflation would add $750 billion to the deficit in 2013 and 2014, but it would increase employment by 1.8 million. By comparison, allowing the tax breaks for income over $250,000 to expire (which Mr. Obama wants to do) would add $670 billion to the deficit and create 1.6 million jobs.

Republicans managed to get Mr. Obama to extend all of the Bush-era tax rates in 2010, but it's unclear whether they'd have the same leverage now, after the election. Boehner today acknowledged that his party has "some work to do."

"I think the principles of our party are sound, you know, we believe in individual responsibility, we believe in empowering our citizens, we believe in the American dream and want that dream for everyone," he said. "But how we talk about who we are as a party, and is -- clearly conversations are under way, and will continue."

Boehner also reiterated his optimism over potentially tackling immigration reform during Mr. Obama's second term -- but again, he put the onus on the president to lead the way.

"What I'm talking about is a common sense, step-by-step approach would secure our borders, allow us to enforce the laws, and fix a broken immigration system," he said. "But, again, on an issue this big, the president has to lead. I think members on both sides of the aisle want to resolve this issue. The president's going to have to lead here."

Asked whether he was endorsing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Boehner said he wouldn't get into the details.

As much as Boehner want to steer the GOP into negotiations with the White House over tax reform and immigration, it's unclear whether the more conservative members of his caucus will follow his lead. After Boehner indicated earlier this week he would work with Mr. Obama on these issues, conservatives rebuked him.

"Obama voters chose dependency over Liberty. Now establishment R's want citizenship for illegals. You can't beat Santa Claus with amnesty," conservative Rep. Steve King of Iowa wrote on Twitter Thursday.

Another conservative congressman, John Fleming of Louisiana, released a released a lengthy statement rebuking Boehner for being open to a "comprehensive approach" to immigration reform. "There's been zero discussion of this issue within the conference, and I'm urging the Speaker to talk with House Republicans before making pledges on the national news," he said.

Fleming also said he was "puzzled" by Boehner's suggestion that he would allow for new tax revenues. Now, he said, is "not a time for Republicans to resort to the politics of expediency, but to stay with the fundamental values that Americans expect."