Even As Leaders Appear 'Upbeat' After 'Fiscal Cliff' Meeting, Taxes, Benefit Programs Remain Flashpoints

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, appeared optimistic about a deal to avert automatic spending cuts and tax increases, but major issues must be tackled.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Taxes, Benefit Programs Key Flashpoints In 'Fiscal Cliff' Negotiations
There are numerous hurdles, big and small, in front of President Barack Obama and lawmakers on Capitol Hill as they seek a budget and tax agreement to avoid economy-rattling tax increases and automatic spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" (11/19).

Los Angeles Times: Obama And Boehner Upbeat After 'Fiscal Cliff' Meeting
The outline of a compromise over impending tax hikes and spending cuts began to come into focus Friday after President Obama convened top congressional leaders at the White House. The first part of such a deal would be legislation this year that would commit Congress to specific revenue increases, favored by Democrats, and spending cuts, as advocated by Republicans. How those increases and cuts would be achieved would be worked out in the second stage next year by the new Congress (Mascaro, 11/16).

The New York Times: Back On Hill, Ryan Remains A Fiscal Force
Speaker John A. Boehner has tapped Mr. Ryan, who has returned to his post as the House Budget Committee chairman after an unsuccessful run for vice president, to help strike a deal to avoid big tax increases and spending cuts by the end of the year, and to bring along fellow Republicans. … The test will be whether Mr. Ryan … can make the transition from House budget philosopher to governing heavyweight who can help negotiate a bipartisan deal and sell it to his colleagues. While President Obama and the Democrats are expected to give ground on entitlements and discretionary spending, it is likely that Mr. Ryan will be the player under the most pressure to back away from his previous conservative positions in order to form a bipartisan agreement (Steinhauer, 11/18).

NPR: In Fiscal Cliff Talks, Higher Taxes Vs. Closing Loopholes
The White House and Congress continue to work on a deal that avoids the fiscal cliff and cuts deficits in the long run. One of the biggest hurdles is President Obama's proposal to raise tax rates for the wealthy (Ydstie, 11/19).

The Wall Street Journal: What A Deal Might Look Like
North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad, retiring chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, spoke with The Wall Street Journal's John Bussey about why he's hopeful, and what he thinks a deal could look like (Bussey, 11/19).

The Associated Press: Democrats Toughen Stance On Trimming Benefits
President Barack Obama's re-election has stiffened Democrats' spine against cutting popular benefit programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Their new resolve could become as big a hurdle to a deal that would skirt crippling tax increases and spending cuts in January as Republicans' resistance to raising tax rates on the wealthy (Taylor, 11/17).

Meanwhile, news outlets offer advice for retirees about how to "survive the fiscal cliff," and warnings about how the automatic cuts could affect the health care system, including the health law's implementation -

The Fiscal Times: 4 Ways Retirees Can Survive The Fiscal Cliff
The past few years haven’t been great for those who have just retired or are nearing their golden years. And unfortunately with the fiscal cliff on the horizon — more than $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases coming January 2 — things could get a lot worse. Lawyer and certified public accountant Leon LaBrecque predicts in a Bankrate analysis that retirees could face a 17 percent increase in their 2013 federal income taxes, in addition to increases in state, local and property taxes. And if the nation slips into another recession, they’ll see a significant dent in their portfolios. … As part of the spending cuts mandated by Congress last year, Medicare Part D would get a 2 percent cut, which could increase out-of-pocket costs for Medicare recipients. Physicians who take Medicare patients could also see a pay cut, which might prompt more to stop accepting Medicare (Johnson, 11/18).

CQ HealthBeat: Experts See Trouble For Health Care In The Fiscal Cliff And Beyond
Budget and health policy experts Friday painted a grim picture of the implications for health care should automatic scheduled cuts go into effect at the end of the year, including an 8.2 percent slash in administrative costs for the Department of Health and Human Services as it struggles to establish insurance exchanges. Members of the Alliance for Health Reform discussion panel also were skeptical, for the most part, that Congress and the White House will allow the cuts and tax increases that would prevent the fiscal cliff to take effect. They said they expect some kind of temporary solution followed by talks and legislative action through 2013 on long-term solutions that would have to involve health care costs. However, fiscal expert Stan Collender said he's heard increasingly in recent days from both Democrats and Republicans who think the fiscal cliff should go into effect — even if just for a few days — so that those who are affected will become angry and lawmakers will be forced into a decision (Norman, 11/16).

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