WASHINGTON – Congress returned in a lame duck session with no signs of quick compromise to prevent a tax hike for most Americans early next year.
Talks between the White House and Republican leaders in the House continued behind closed doors. Current tax rates expire Dec. 31.
Emboldened by his re-election, President Obama took his case for raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to the public on Monday. He warned that the threat of higher taxes on middle-class Americans could dampen the Christmas shopping season.
"The President has called on Congress to take action and stop holding the middle class and our economy hostage over a disagreement on tax cuts for households with incomes over $250,000 per year," the White House said in a statement.
The White House got a boost from billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who said the wealthy – himself included – should pay more. Noting the nation’s growing gap in income disparity, Buffett dismissed the Republican argument that tax hikes would hamper investments.
“In recent years, my gang has been leaving the middle class in the dust,” Buffett said. “So let’s forget about the rich and ultrarich going on strike and stuffing their ample funds under their mattresses if — gasp — capital gains rates and ordinary income rates are increased.”
Key Republicans, including House Speaker John A. Boehner, have signaled they are willing to put new tax revenues on the table, creating the outlines of a possible deal. Several Republican lawmakers used the Sunday talk shows to distance themselves from their party’s anti-tax pledge, publicly breaking with conservative stalwart Grover Norquist, although they insisted any agreement must include spending cuts.
A so-called grand bargain of tax hikes and spending cuts has eluded Washington in the past, but both political parties are wary of rattling the financial markets and sparking a crisis in consumer spending. Wall Street has signaled a bold deficit-reduction plan is needed to prevent a credit downgrade.
No talks between the president and congressional leaders have been scheduled. The parties had agreed to meet this week to put the framework of a two-part deal on the table.
If Republicans continue to fight higher tax rates for the wealthy, Boehner will face pressure to propose an alternative way to raise new revenue – either by closing individual loopholes or capping deductions in a way that produces new money.
“Congressional and White House staff continue to work to find common ground that is consistent with the ‘balanced approach’ the White House says it wants – with significant spending cuts, and without job-killing small business tax hikes,” said a senior House leadership aide.