Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Read John Boehner's lips: No new taxes.
President Obama, Senate Democrats and a majority of the American people may say the wealthiest Americans need to pay more taxes, but the House speaker is standing his ground in opposition to raising rates.
"Raising taxes on small businesses will kill jobs in America. It is as simple as that," Boehner said today in a wide-ranging interview with USA TODAY in which he repeatedly spoke of finding "common ground" with Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Boehner acknowledged much work remains in the next 53 days before the country tips over the "fiscal cliff" - when nearly every tax cut enacted since 2001 will expire and the first $110 billion of a $1.2 trillion spending cut plan begins.
"I think the members understand that the fiscal cliff ... is unacceptable," he said.
Boehner is as resolute in his position as Democrats are in theirs. Democrats want the tax rates for Americans earning more than $250,000 raised from 35% to 39.6% as part of the broader effort to get the nation's debt and deficit under control.
"The issue here is the president wants revenue. I'm willing to put revenue on the table," Boehner said, outlining the GOP position that enough revenue can be found in closing tax loopholes, eliminating deductions and other tax changes, and rates can be left alone. Democrats fundamentally disagree.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that for Democrats, higher rates on the wealthy "absolutely" have to be part of a deal. "It matters very much" where the revenue comes from, he said. Democrats will have "a relentless focus on the middle class and helping them grow" for the next two years.
Boehner said he, Reid and Obama are capable of finding an agreement, although one remains out of sight.
"I have no doubts that they're as interested in doing the will of the American people as I am," he said, although he did offer some criticism of the president's track record on negotiating with Congress and translating his vision into legislative reality. Boehner said he listened to Obama's re-election victory speech.
"It sounded pretty good, but you know, I remember that speech from four years ago, and that sounded real good, too," he said, "I don't mean to seem harsh, but actions speak louder than words."
Boehner said his preference in the lame-duck session of Congress, which will start next week, will be to find a short-term "bridge" to avoid going off the fiscal cliff and buy Congress and the White House more time to find a broader solution.
"I've never seen a lame-duck Congress do big things. And as speaker, I feel pretty strongly that a lame-duck Congress shouldn't do big things," Boehner said, explaining that retired and defeated members should not play an outsized role in determining future policy.
Beyond the fiscal fight, Obama may find renewed interest from across the aisle on overhauling the nation's immigration laws. Hispanics sided decisively with the Democratic Party on Election Day, a growing cause for concern for many GOP leaders, Boehner included. "I think it's important that we find common ground with our colleagues and deal with this issue forthrightly," he said, adding that Republicans have work to do to diversify their party and their representation in the House, which continues to be dominated by white males, while Democrats are poised to become a minority- and woman-dominated party.
"We need to find more effective ways to talk to the American people about who we are as a party," he said, "Frankly, our opponents have done a pretty good job of labeling us as against women, against minorities. We need to do a more effective job communicating with the American people."