Up Date 16:33 EDT: Republican Senators have taken Social Security off the table as part of the negotiations for the “fiscal cliff.”
With the deadline for the expiration of Bush Tax cuts and austere spending cuts, the Senate negotiations have reached a stalemate. At the last minute, the Republicans demanded significant cuts to Social Security benefits. House Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who was described as “shocked and disappointed” and this may well be the “poison pill” that ends the charade of “fiscal cliff” talks.
The development came after a long weekend of negotiations during which the two sides had been making progress.
The aide said Democrats had shown flexibility on the major sticking points involving taxes. They had not ruled out maintaining the tax on inherited estates at the current low rate, as Republicans prefer. And they had been open to a deal that would allow taxes to rise on many fewer wealthy households than President Obama had proposed. Republicans were seeking tax increases only on income higher than $400,000 or $500,000 a year, while Obama wanted to set the threshold at $250,000 a year.
But Obama was pressing for $30 billion in new spending to keep unemployment benefits flowing to the long-term unemployed, and he wanted to postpone roughly $100 billion in automatic spending cuts set to hit agency budgets next months. In exchange for those items, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) insisted Sunday that Democrats put cuts to Social Security benefits on the table, noting that Obama had offered to do so as part of the big deficit-reduction package he had been negotiating with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio.)
Republicans declined to comment on the new offer, but noted that Obama endorsed the adjustment, known as chained CPI, again Sunday, in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press.
President Obama suggested that he was open to the highly unpopular proposal to cut increases to Social Security by linking it to the “chained CPI” in the context of a larger deal.
The other “monkey wrench” that McConnell threw into the mix was estate taxes which are scheduled to increase to the Clinton level of 55% on estates over one million dollars. The estate tax currently exempts the first $5 million of inheritance and taxes the remainder at 35 percent, which the Republicans want to keep. Pres. Obama wants to make it less generous, reducing the exemption to $3.5 million and taxing the remainder at a 45 percent rate. This tax only affects an extremely small number of people.
Under the Republican proposal, 3,800 people would pay the estate tax year, also near an average of $3.3 million. The GOP proposal would raise $182 billion for federal tax coffers over the next 10 years.
Under Obama’s proposal, 6,500 people would pay the estate tax next year, with an average payment estimated at about $3 million. The president’s proposal would raise $284 billion in tax revenue over the next 10 years.
No action by Congress would send the estate tax back to what it was in the 1990s – with a $1 million exemption and 55 rate percent for the remaining share. That would affect more than 40 million Americans.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-SC) has reached out to Vice President Joe Biden to break the impasse.