WASHINGTON -- Top officials in President Barack Obama's administration pushed back Tuesday on a report that they would still support a debt-reduction deal nearly reached this past August with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The administration officials addressed reporters in a background briefing conducted on the condition that what they said could be reported but not directly quoted. They were asked specifically about a Washington Post report that said an agreement between the president and the speaker -- in which major reforms and cuts to entitlement programs would be exchanged for $800 billion in additional revenues -- was "still on the table." One of the top officials called the report inaccurate.
What remained on the table, the official clarified, was the notion that there could be a deal. But instead of including the specific elements previously agreed upon by Obama and Boehner, any major deficit reduction measure considered going forward will have to more closely resemble a separate plan introduced by the president in the fall as part of his presentation to the congressional super committee charged with deficit reduction.
Where that leaves prospective negotiations is unclear. The Washington Post story noted that the White House was willing to sign off on keeping the current Bush-era tax cuts in place for everyone (including the wealthy) as part of a measure to simplify the tax code and generate new revenues by closing loopholes. The administration insisted that rates on investment income be increased from their current levels. It also reportedly rejected Republican attempts to count revenue that would theoretically be generated from the economic activity that resulted from tax cuts. But even then, according to former chief of staff Bill Daley, the two sides were 80 percent in agreement.
The subsequent proposal that the president made to the super committee did not include the major entitlement reforms that Obama and Boehner had discussed. It also relied much more heavily on actual tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans.
At Tuesday's briefing, a senior administration official said the latter approach more closely resembled the concept of shared sacrifice that the president viewed as a pre-requisite for any future negotiations. The official also noted that events surrounding such negotiations had changed dramatically since last August, when lawmakers were firmly considering the prospect of a default on the nation's debt.
But such a prospect may loom once more when the next round of deficit reduction talks begins. The debt ceiling deal, along with the Bush-era tax cuts and the triggers put in place by the super committee's failure will all resurface as issues in the fall of 2012.
On Tuesday, House Republicans laid out their version of how to resolve that logjam by introducing Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget. The proposal includes dramatic tax policy reform that would nullify the issue of the expiring Bush tax cuts. It also seeks to replace the $500 billion in triggered cuts to the defense department by substituting in measures that would decrease spending on food stamps, federal worker benefits and health care programs, among other items.
Boehner had previously stated a commitment to upholding the triggers as they were originally constituted. He endorsed Ryan's counterproposal on Tuesday.
Asked about that change of tune during the Tuesday briefing, top Obama officials said they continued to oppose efforts to dilute the triggers.