WASHINGTON (CNN) — House Speaker John Boehner declined on Friday to give any details on what ground Republicans could give in negotiations with the White House on the fiscal cliff but continued his post-election emphasis that he is willing to compromise.
“I don’t want to box myself in, and I don’t want to box anyone else in,” Boehner told reporters on Capitol Hill at his first news conference since Tuesday’s election.
Later Friday, Obama invited Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to a meeting at the White House next Friday, a Democratic aide said.
While sounding conciliatory, Boehner repeatedly dug in on his opposition to any increases to tax rates, arguing that it would be a blow to a struggling economy.
“Raising tax rates will slow down our ability to create the jobs that everyone says they want,” Boehner said.
Instead Boehner pointed to getting rid of some corporate and personal tax loopholes and eliminating some deductions that would bring in new money to the treasury.
“If we clean up the code, make it simpler, the tax code will be more efficient. The current code only collects about 85% of what’s due the government and it’s clear that if you have a simpler, cleaner, fairer tax code that efficiency, the effectiveness and efficiency of the tax code increases exponentially.”
Pressed for specifics, Boehner repeatedly wouldn’t give any, stressing he didn’t want to limit any options available to him or the White House.
The speaker argued reforms to entitlement programs, which he said were major contributors to the exploding deficit, must be part of any final deal.
“This is year two of a 25-year demographic bubble that — wasn’t like anyone couldn’t see it coming. 10,000 baby boomers, like me, retiring every day; 70,000 a week. It’s 3.5 million this year and this is just the second year of the 25-year baby boom bubble and it’s not like there’s money in Social Security or Medicare. This has to be dealt with.”
But congressional Democrats continue to maintain that any changes to these programs should come only from reductions to providers, not any changes to benefits — an issue that is likely to be thorny as the talks move from the stage of both sides saying they want a deal to actually discussing the nitty gritty.
The speaker seemed to brush off the notion that he would have a tough time getting fellow House Republicans to sign on to whatever agreement he discussed with the White House.
“When the president and I have been able to come to agreement, there’s been no problem getting it passed here in the House,” Boehner said flatly.
A senior aide to a top House conservative who hasn’t always agreed with Boehner told CNN, “For the most part, you’re going to see people give the speaker a chance to see what he can do.”
“We all understand the president won re-election, we won re-election, we’re in an interesting position and we’ll have to figure out the best way to get through all this,” this aide said, but noted that Boehner is continuing to stick with the GOP position that revenue only comes from growth from tax reform.
Another senior House Republican aide said that top GOP leaders were reaching out informally to rank-and-file members to take their temperature.
Congress returns next week for its lame-duck session and faces enormous pressure to come up with a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” — the combination of the Bush-era tax cuts that are expiring at the end of the year and the across-the-board automatic spending cuts that are due to kick in starting in January.
Boehner restated his stance that he thinks only a temporary — one-year — agreement should be discussed during the lame-duck Congress, but the broader so-called “grand bargain” deal would need to wait until the next Congress.
“2013 should be the year we begin to solve our debt through tax reform and entitlement reform,” Boehner said.
While the president beat GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney handily on Tuesday night and Democrats picked up seats in both the Senate and the House, Boehner asserted his own power in the negotiations.
“The American people re-elected a Republican majority, and I’m proud of the fact that our team, in a very difficult year, was able to maintain our majority.”
But the Ohio Republican conceded, “As a political party, we’ve got some work to do.”
After Romney lost by a huge margin among Hispanic voters, Boehner shifted his stance on immigration, saying in an interview with ABC on Thursday night that he was “confident” both sides could agree to a comprehensive immigration reform proposal.
But he appeared to walk back how broad of a proposal he could back on Friday saying, “
I’m not talking about a 3,000-page bill, what I’m talking about a common-sense, step-by-step approach that would secure our borders, allow us to enforce the laws and fix a broken immigration system. But again on an issue this big, the president has to lead.”
When pressed if he was now supporting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, Boehner declined to answer.