White House spurns Republican offer on ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations

WASHINGTON – The White House on Monday dismissed a Republican counteroffer to avert the so-called fiscal cliff as failing to “meet the test of balance” by resisting higher tax rates for the wealthy, a point that remains a key hurdle in the impasse over spending and revenues.

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said in a statement that what congressional Republicans had billed as a “good-faith effort” to move toward compromise contained “nothing new” and offered no specifics on how they’d achieve revenue targets included in the plan.

“Until the Republicans in Congress are willing to get serious about asking the wealthiest to pay slightly higher tax rates, we won’t be able to achieve a significant, balanced approach to reduce our deficit,” Pfeiffer said in the statement, released two hours after details of the GOP offer emerged.

Republicans greeted the White House response as a demonstration of “how unreasonable it has become.”

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“If the president is rejecting this middle ground offer, it is now his obligation to present a plan that can pass both chambers of Congress,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

The Republican plan would raise $800 billion through an overhaul of the tax code, coupled with $600 billion in cuts to health entitlement programs, an additional $200 billion from reforms to Social Security, and half a trillion dollars in other spending cuts. They said the proposal was modeled after suggestions that Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration and co-chairman of President Obama’s debt commission, made to a congressional committee a year earlier.

But Bowles released his own statement distancing himself from the GOP offer, which he said “does not represent the Simpson-Bowles plan, nor is it the Bowles plan.”

The back-and-forth came after a day in which the White House continued its effort to put the onus on Republicans to answer the president’s initial offer to prevent automatic spending cuts and tax increases, which starts by allowing George W. Bush-era tax rates to expire for families earning $250,000 or more in income, while maintaining lower rates on income below that level.

Speaking to reporters before the GOP counteroffer emerged, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said that Obama was “willing to compromise, and he looks forward to concrete proposals from Republicans that address the question of revenue.”

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Obama answered a handful of questions on Twitter submitted to @whitehouse using its #my2k hashtag, a reference to the $2,200 the administration says an average family would pay in additional taxes if Congress failed to act.

The president told one user that spending cuts without new revenues would mean reductions in student loans and end tax credits for college tuition, which would be “bad for growth.”

He told another that without higher tax rates for wealthy Americans, there was “danger that middle-class deductions get hit,” such as those for home mortgages.

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