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'Grand Bargain' on budget will be difficult

11:02 AM, Mar 19, 2013   |    comments
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Susan Page, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - House Speaker John Boehner's latest comments dismissing higher taxes from being included in any budget deal raise serious doubts about whether President Obama and congressional Republicans in the end will be able to reach a "grand bargain," White House adviser Gene Sperling says.

In an interview on USA TODAY's "Capital Download," Sperling said Monday that encouraging remarks Sunday by Republican Sen. Bob Corker -- a Tennessean who said Republicans might be open to changes in the tax code that generate additional revenue -- were immediately offset by Boehner's unyielding stance that same day. "The talk about raising revenue is over," the House speaker declared on ABC's This Week.

"If the Republican leadership that controls the House of Representatives says ... that from now on, every single penny of deficit reduction has to come from things like Medicare, education, research; that there can't be one single penny that comes from closing a loophole or a tax expenditure for a very well-off American -- that is the type of absolute position that makes that kind of compromise very difficult," said Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council.

Sperling was interviewed in the ornate Secretary of War Suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, part of the White House complex. Sitting under a portrait of James M. Porter, secretary of war from 1843-1844 in the Tyler administration, his comments underscored what a battle reaching a deal will be.

He didn't respond directly when asked if Obama trusted Boehner. "They have had very good conversations in the past," Sperling said. "It's unfortunate that for whatever reason they have retreated from where they were in December and have now taken this hard, absolutist line."

In "fiscal cliff" negotiations late last year, the two men came close to reaching a compromise agreement that would include tax hikes and changes in entitlements. Obama said he would support a deal that included moving to a less generous calculation of cost-of-living increases for Social Security beneficiaries.

"I think there are a lot of progressives who are unhappy" about that, Sperling said.

USA TODAY

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