White House 'cliff' offer gets GOP cold shoulder

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is seeking $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over a decade and an immediate infusion of funds

to aid the jobless, help hard-pressed homeowners and perhaps extend the expiring payroll tax cut, officials said Thursday

as talks aimed at averting an economy-rattling "'fiscal cliff" turned testy.

In exchange, the officials said, President

Barack Obama will support an unspecified amount of spending cuts this

year, to

be followed by legislation in 2013 producing savings of as much as

$400 billion from Medicare and other benefit programs over

a decade.

The offer produced a withering response from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, after a closed-door meeting in the Capitol

with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. "Unfortunately, many Democrats continue to rule out sensible spending cuts that must

be part of any significant agreement that will reduce our deficit," he declared.

Boehner added, "No substantive progress has been made between the White House and the House" in the two weeks since Obama

welcomed congressional leaders at the White House.

Democrats swiftly countered that any holdup was the fault of Republicans who refuse to accept Obama's campaign-long call to

raise tax rates on upper incomes.

At the White House, presidential press secretary Jay Carney said, "There can be no deal without rates on top earners going

up." Taking a confrontational, at times sarcastic tone, he said, "This should not be news to anyone on Capitol Hill. It is

certainly not news to anyone in America who was not in a coma during the campaign season."

With barely a month remaining until a

year-end deadline, the hardening of positions seemed more likely to mark

a transition

into hard bargaining rather than signal an end to efforts to

achieve a compromise on the first postelection challenge of divided

government.

Boehner suggested as much when one reporter asked if his comments meant he was breaking off talks with the White House and

congressional Democrats.

"No, no, no. Stop," he quickly answered.

"I've got to tell you, I'm disappointed in where we are, and disappointed in what's happened over the last couple weeks. But

going over the fiscal cliff is serious business."

Republican aides provided the first description of the White House's offer, although Democratic officials readily confirmed

the outlines.

Under the proposal, the White House is seeking passage by year's end of tax increases totaling $1.6 trillion over a decade,

including the rate hikes sought by Obama.

Obama also asked for year-end approval for

an unspecified amount of new spending to renew expiring jobless

benefits, help

homeowners hit by the real estate collapse and prevent a looming

Jan. 1 cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients.

The White House also wants a new stimulus package to aid the economy, with a price tag for the first year of $50 billion,

as well as an extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut that is due to expire on Dec. 31, or some way to offset it.

In political terms, the White House proposal

is a near mirror image of what officials have said Republicans earlier

laid down

as their first offer — a permanent extension of income tax cuts at

all levels, an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility

and steps to curtail future growth in Social Security

cost-of-living increases.

In exchange, the GOP has offered to support unspecified increases in revenue as part of tax reform legislation to be written

in 2013.

The GOP said the White House was offering unspecified spending cuts this year. Those would be followed next year by legislation

producing savings from Medicare and other benefit programs of up to $400 billion over a decade, a companion to an overhaul

of the tax code.

For the first time since the Nov., 6

elections, partisan bickering seems to trump productive bargaining as

the two sides maneuvered

for position.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told

reporters, "We're still waiting for a serious offer from Republicans,"

the Nevada Democrat

said at a news conference.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was more emphatic.

Referring to a meeting at the White House more than a week ago, he said both sides agreed to a two-part framework that would

include a significant down payment in 2012, along with a plan to expand on the savings in 2013.

"Each side said they'd submit a down payment. We have. Our preference is revenue. What is theirs?" he said, speaking of the

Republicans.

The White House also circulated a memo that

said closing loopholes and limiting tax deductions — a preferred

Republican alternative

to Obama's call to raise high-end tax rates — would be likely to

depress charitable donations and wind up leading to a middle

class tax increase in the near future.

At issue is a bipartisan desire to prevent

the wholesale expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and the simultaneous

implementation

of across-the-board spending cuts. The potential spending

reductions, to be divided between military and domestic programs,

were locked into place more than a year ago in hopes the threat

would have forced a compromise on a deficit reduction deal

before now.

Economists in and out of government warn that sending the economy over the "cliff" would trigger a recession.

To avoid the danger, Obama and Congress are hoping to devise a plan that can reduce future deficits by as much as $4 trillion

in a decade, cancel the tax increases and automatic spending cuts and expand the government's ability to borrow beyond the

current limit of $16.4 trillion.

In the first few days after the elections,

Boehner said he was willing to accept a deal that included new revenues,

a long-time

Democratic demand, and Obama has said he will sign on to savings

from Medicare, Medicaid and other benefit programs that Democrats

have long defended from proposed Republican cuts.

At the same time, both sides have worked to tilt the bargaining table to their advantage. As part of that effort, Obama travels

to Pennsylvania on Friday to campaign for his tax proposal.

Boehner, who will begin a second term as

House speaker early next month, has appealed to his rank and file to

remain united.

At a closed-door meeting this week, he displayed polling data that

showed the public would rather see loopholes closed than

rates raised as a means of raising revenue for the government.

At the same time, there are tremors within

the GOP ranks, with a small number of Republicans saying they are

willing to let

tax rates rise at upper incomes in view of the election returns,

and others predicting legislation to that effect would pass

the House if put to a vote.