Makings of a fiscal deal behind the hot rhetoric
Another idea that gained currency during the Obama-Boehner talks last year would change the annual inflation measure used for Social Security cost-of-living increases and the indexation of tax brackets for inflation.
Many economists and government budget specialists believe the system is a more accurate measure of inflation because it takes into account changes in purchasing behavior
This "chained consumer price index" idea makes modest cuts to Social Security benefits at first — curbing program costs by $112 billion over a decade according to the 2011 CBO report. But those reductions build up more over time in a fashion comparable to the way compound interest builds personal savings.
The White House has not foreclosed the idea of addressing Social Security cost-of living changes in a new deal, but it has not embraced it because Obama's aides argue Social Security is not contributing to the federal deficit.
The stingier inflation measure also could raise tax revenue by $87 billion over the coming decade. Taxes would slowly increase because annual adjustments to income tax brackets would be smaller, pushing more people into higher brackets.
But the alternative inflation measure, while a favorite of budget hawks, has run into fierce opposition from defenders of Social Security.
"I've never been a part of that," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a top Obama ally.
The two sides are also close, at least in theory, on curbing spending on a host of miscellaneous programs, as well as new fees. These could lead to higher airline ticket prices, for example, an end to Saturday mail delivery, fewer food stamps and lower farm subsidies.
Republicans claim they could glean $300 billion from such cuts and fees over 10 years; the White House promises $250 billion.
So far, the public seems ready to hold Republicans responsible if negotiations fail. A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll shows that 53 percent say the Republicans would deserve blame if the nation tips over the fiscal cliff, and only 27 percent of those surveyed say Obama would be to blame.
Forty-nine percent don't believe Obama and Congress will reach a deal by Jan. 1, whereas 40 percent are more optimistic.
Republicans were quick to say on Tuesday that Boehner's plan was attracting criticism from the right, particularly from Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, a leader of tea party conservatives, and as such represented more of a compromise than Obama's stance. DeMint said Boehner's plan "will destroy American jobs and allow politicians in Washington to spend even more."
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this article.
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