Barbs fly on ‘fiscal cliff’ but still no agreement

Boehner: ‘You can’t be serious’

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Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner pushed back Sunday at Republican attacks on the Obama administration’s proposal rolled out four days earlier to avoid falling off the “fiscal cliff,” saying if GOP leaders don’t like it, they should come up with a plan of their own.

But while Mr. Geithner says he is still optimistic a deal will be worked out before critical year-end deadlines, House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Sunday that talks with the administration are going nowhere and accused President Obama of trying to ram through the White House plan without negotiating in good faith.

Both sides say the other is digging in and playing partisan hardball at the expense of the fragile economy.

“If they’ve got some different suggestions, [if] they want to go further in some areas, then they should lay it out to us,” Mr. Geithner told “Fox News Sunday.” “We are waiting to hear from them.”

The administration on Thursday floated a budget framework to Republicans calling for $1.6 trillion in tax increases coupled with promised spending cuts of $400 billion. Mr. Geithner also said tax reforms in the president’s plan would raise $600 billion.

“We laid out a very detailed, carefully designed set of spending, savings and tax changes that help put us back on a path to fiscal responsibility,” he said.

Mr. Geithner said he is hopeful a deal can be brokered before hitting the early January fiscal cliff, when George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire and a series of defense and domestic spending cuts kick in — a scenario that would trigger a crippling recession, many economists say.

Mr. Obama and most Democrats want to extend the tax cuts only for individuals making less than $200,000 and couples earning less than $250,000 — about 98 percent of all taxpayers. Republicans want to continue the cuts for everyone.

Mr. Geithner said if negotiations fail, the blame will rest with a “small group” of Republicans in Congress who “decide they’re going to block an agreement because they’re not prepared to see tax rates rise modestly for just 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans.”

GOP leaders dismissed the president’s plan almost immediately last week, saying it doesn’t include enough spending cuts and raises taxes too much. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, reportedly laughed when shown the plan’s details last week, while Mr. Boehner said Sunday he was “flabbergasted.”

“I looked at [Mr. Geithner] and said, ‘You can’t be serious,’” Mr. Boehner told “Fox News Sunday.” “We’ve got seven weeks between Election Day and the end of the year. And three of those weeks have been wasted with this nonsense.”

GOP leaders, including Mr. Boehner, have denied they don’t have a plan of their own, pointing to their postelection offer to allow the government to raise tax revenue through ending some deductions and closing loopholes — though they have held strong against raising tax rates. They say it’s now the Democrats’ turn to bring more to the negotiating table — namely bigger cuts to major entitlements such as Medicare.

Mr. Boehner also chafed at a provision in the administration’s plan that calls for Congress to relinquish its power to raise the debt limit, calling that idea “silliness.”

The speaker said he still is willing to work with the president to hammer out a deal before the new year. He declined to offer specific details, though he said recent budget plans by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, offer plenty of examples on how to lower the debt and deficit.

“I don’t want any part of going over the cliff. I’m going to do everything I can to avert that,” he said.

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