House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Tuesday that he is "not confident at all" that Congress can reach a deal with President Barack Obama to avoid the effects of the so-called "fiscal cliff" before January.
"I'm not confident at all," Boehner exclaimed at his weekly press conference when asked if he thought lawmakers could reach a deal during the lame-duck Congress to avert a series of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that would trigger into place at the beginning of the next year.
"The House has done its job on both the sequester and the looming tax hikes that will cost our economy some 700,000 jobs," the Republican speaker continued. "The Senate at some point has to act. On both of these where's the president? Where's the leadership? Absent without leave."
The fiscal cliff represents the combined impact of the inability this term in Congress to resolve the future of the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of this year, and a long-term solution to mounting deficits to replace the automatic cuts -- which fall heavily on defense spending -- that were included in the 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling.
Because the bipartisan "supercommittee" was unable to agree upon a plan to replace these automatic cuts (called the "sequester"), Congress must now scramble to cobble together an alternative. Economists warn the combined effects of the tax hikes and spending cuts would imperil an already-shaky economy. House Republicans have passed legislation to avoid the mandatory defense cuts by slashing spending from social programs, a proposal which Democrats have rejected.
The mere specter of additional gridlock over the fiscal cliff prompted credit ratings agency Moody's to warn officials about a downgrade in its outlook on U.S. debt, long considered one of the most secure holdings of debt. The ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded its rating of U.S. debt a notch after the debt-ceiling battles in August of 2011.
"It was a difficult time. I still look at my failure to come to an agreement with the president as the biggest disappointment of my speakership," Boehner said in reflecting on that period, which is detailed in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward. "But I don't think there's anybody that's worked harder than Eric and I to try and work with the president to come to an agreement."
The immediacy of the fight over the fiscal cliff is further complicated by November's elections, which could change the composition of Congress and even replace Obama with Mitt Romney in the White House. The makeup of the next Congress and administration will inevitably shape and constrain lawmakers' ability to cut deals during the lame-duck Congress -- the period between the election and the inauguration of the new Congress.
And already, blame is being spread around.
"Look at Mr. Woodward's book this morning on page 326, it is made perfectly clear where the sequester came from," Boehner said. "The president didn't want his re-election inconvenienced by another fight by a $1.2 trillion dollar increase in the debt ceiling. Having said that, somehow we have to deal with our spending problem. America continues to spend more money than we bring in and we have to resolve it and stop this business of kicking the can down the road."