Following a roughly hour-long meeting with the president, vice president and congressional leaders, House Speaker John Boehner insisted higher taxes will not be part of any deal to avert the looming across-the-board spending cuts.
"This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at the White House today. "It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington."
The speaker gave no indication of a breakthrough to avert $85 billion in budget cuts set to kick-in before the end of the day.
"The American people know that Washington has a spending problem, and while there are smarter ways to cut spending than the process that we're about to engage on, the House shouldn't have to pass a third bill before the Senate does anything," he said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, continued to push for new tax revenue as part of a package to offset the sequester because there is "big money there."
"There are probably around a trillion dollars in tax expenditures that occur each year," Pelosi, D-Calif., said. "We have to go to the table and say, these tax expenditures are spending. They cost the taxpayer."
After the sequestration deadline passes at the stroke of midnight tonight, the president will set in motion $85 billion in across-the-board cuts. Those cuts could eventually be replaced, although congressional leaders have already grappled fruitlessly for 18 months to identify an alternative mix of savings.
Pelosi called this morning's Oval Office gathering "an important meeting," and said that it demonstrated a contrast in values between Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
"We believe that we should build our economy from the middle class out, from the middle out," Pelosi said. "The Republicans believe in trickle down. That is the essence of our difference."
While Boehner has signaled he is willing to closing some tax loopholes as a part of comprehensive tax reform, the speaker has long maintained that any new revenue would be utilized to bring down individual rates, not to pay for new government spending.
Pelosi said that the president "challenged" the group "to look at all of the expenditures that government makes" in entitlements, taxes, and discretionary spending "to see if we could come to some agreement on how we go forward."
"To govern is to choose, and when we want to subject our expenditures to the scrutiny that we should…we have to make judgments," she said. "Is a particular initiative still a priority for us? Is it duplicative? Is it obsolete? Is there any wasteful spending?"
Despite the political brinksmanship, Pelosi said she believes an agreement to replace the sequester will ultimately be reached between congressional leaders.
"We are spending money to give tax subsidies to Big Oil in order to drill to the tune of $38 billion, an incentive for them to drill in a period of time where they will make a trillion dollars in profit; not in income, but in profit. So what incentive do they need to drill more than a trillion dollars in profit?" she asked. "There is money to be had there, and that is a place where we can try to bring into focus and into balance what we're trying to do."
Boehner said the House will move forward next week on legislation to fund the government past March 27. He said that he's "hopeful that we won't have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown while we're dealing with the sequester at the same time."
"The House will act next week, and I hope the Senate will follow suit," he said.
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