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GOP Leaders Pan White House's Budget Plan

GOP Leaders Pan White House's Budget Plan

By Caitlin Huey-Burns and Erin McPike - November 30, 2012

Democratic and Republican leaders have needled each other this week to make the first move in the staring match over how to avert the looming fiscal cliff. On Thursday, the White House finally jumped, offering a broad, recycled plan for $1.6 trillion in tax increases, additional stimulus spending and a request to permanently raise the government’s debt borrowing limit.

In exchange, the president offered $400 billion in Medicare savings over a decade, similar to his previous proposal. Republicans weren't interested, and struck a discontented tone that echoed across Capitol Hill.

“This offer represents a complete break from reality,” said a Republican congressional aide, arguing that the White House is wasting precious time. “After weeks of negotiations, they just demanded all of their favorite proposals, with no sign of compromise whatsoever.”

Of course, Obama’s offer is far from a final one, but by putting forth its wish list the administration answered GOP demands that entitlements be on the table, launching what figures to be a series of counteroffers.

Shortly after meeting with Treasury Secretary Geithner and the president’s top legislative aide, Rob Nabors, Speaker John Boehner told reporters that “no substantial progress has been made” between the White House and his conference regarding the automatic tax increases and spending cuts due to kick in at year’s end. The details of the proposal were revealed several hours later, and Republicans noted that the $1.6 trillion in new taxes is double the amount put forth in a Senate bill earlier this year.

“I’m disappointed in where we are,” Boehner told reporters, noting his assessment was based on both a phone conversation with President Obama on Wednesday and his meeting with Geithner. House Minority Leader Eric Cantor, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp also attended the meeting. “I’m disappointed in what’s happened over the last couple of weeks. But going over the fiscal cliff is serious business. And I’m here seriously trying to resolve it. And I would hope the White House would get serious as well.”

The discussions between the president and speaker hinge on two key aspects: Whether House Republicans will budge on their opposition to tax increases -- they argue that higher rates will harm small-business job creators -- and how far Democrats are willing to go in cutting entitlement programs. Obama has said he won't sign any bill that does not end the Bush-era tax cuts for couples earning above $250,000, while Republicans want to extend the cuts across the board for a year while revenue is found through closed tax loopholes and other reforms.

Missing from Boehner’s assessment Thursday of the fiscal cliff talks was any specific mention of tax rates.

That may be telling. Already, two Republicans have publically come around to the idea. Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole made headlines this week by supporting the extension for all but the top earners, saying it would at least cover the vast majority of Americans. South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott, a rising conservative lawmaker and freshman representative to the GOP leadership committee, told CNN in an interview Thursday that while he would not vote for the president’s tax plan, he thought it would pass in the House.

Boehner said Wednesday that he disagreed with the Oklahoma lawmaker, but when asked Thursday whether he would rather go off the cliff or concede to the president’s demand to raise rates, the speaker said, “I’m going to do everything I can to avoid putting the American economy, the American people through the fiasco of going over the fiscal cliff.”

Republicans have stepped up their efforts this week to portray Democrats as standing in the way of a deal. “A group of them want to go over the fiscal cliff, [saying] it accomplishes their purposes of raising taxes and cutting defense. I don’t share that,” Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford, an incoming member of the House GOP leadership, said Thursday. Asked by RCP about any movement on tax rates, he insisted that “rates are off the table for our conference.” But as for making an actual deal, he allowed that that job is Boehner’s: “I’m going to let the speaker negotiate the best deal he can.”

Boehner and other Republican leaders have been pressing the White House to lead on this issue, and this week have painted the president and his party as unwilling to negotiate.

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Caitlin Huey-Burns and Erin McPike

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