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Obama rebuffs GOP 'fiscal cliff' counteroffer

WASHINGTON - House Republicans put forth a $2.2 trillion "fiscal cliff" counteroffer to President Barack Obama on Monday, calling for raising the eligibility age for Medicare, lowering cost-of-living hikes for Social Security benefits and bringing in $800 billion in higher tax revenue - but not raising rates for the wealthy. The White House declared the Republicans still weren't ready to "get serious."

With the clock ticking toward the year-end deadline, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other Republicans said they were proposing a "reasonable solution" for negotiations that Boehner says have been going nowhere. Monday's proposal came in response to Obama's plan last week to raise taxes by $1.6 trillion over the coming decade but largely exempt Medicare and Social Security from budget cuts.

Though the GOP plan proposes to raise $800 billion in higher tax revenue over the same 10 years, it would keep the Bush-era tax cuts in place for now. Dismissing the idea of raising tax rates, the Republicans said the new revenue would come from closing loopholes and deductions while lowering rates.

Boehner called that a "credible plan" and said he hoped the administration would "respond in a timely and responsible way." The offer came after the administration urged Republicans to detail their proposal to cut popular benefit programs like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

The White House said the latest offer was still short on details about what loopholes would be closed or deductions eliminated, and it insisted that any compromise include higher tax rates for upper-income earners.

"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 our nation needs," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement.

Boehner saw the situation as just the reverse.

"After the election, I offered to speed this up by putting revenue on the table and unfortunately the White House responded with their la-la land offer that couldn't pass the House, couldn't pass the Senate and it was basically the president's budget from last February," he said Monday.

The GOP proposal revives a host of ideas from failed talks with Obama in the summer of 2011. Then, Obama was willing to discuss politically risky ideas such as raising the eligibility age for Medicare, implementing a new inflation adjustment for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and requiring wealthier Medicare recipients to pay more for their benefits.

Monday's plan contains few specific and anticipates that myriad details will have to be filled in next year in legislation overhauling the tax code and curbing the growth of benefit programs.

Tine is growing shorter before the deadline to avert the fiscal cliff, which is a combination of expiring Bush-era tax cuts and automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that are the result of prior failures of Congress and Obama to make a budget deal.

Many economists say such a one-two punch could send the fragile economy back into recession.

By GOP math, their plan would produce $2.2 trillion in budget savings over the coming decade: $800 billion in higher taxes, $600 billion in savings from costly health care programs like Medicare, $300 billion from other proposals such as forcing federal workers to contribute more toward their pensions and $300 billion in additional savings from the Pentagon budget and domestic programs funded by Congress each year.

Boehner signaled in discussions with Obama in 2011 that he was willing to accept up to $800 billion in higher tax revenues, but his aides maintained that much of that money would have come from so-called dynamic scoring - a conservative approach in which economic growth would have accounted for much of the revenue. Now, Boehner is willing to accept the estimates of official scorekeepers like the Congressional Budget Office, whose models reject dynamic scoring.

Under the administration's math, GOP aides said, the plan represents $4.6 trillion in 10-year savings. That estimate accounts for earlier cuts enacted during last year's showdown over lifting the government's borrowing cap and also factors in war savings and lower interest payments on the $16.4 trillion national debt.

Last week, the White House delivered to Capitol Hill its opening proposal: $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over a decade, a possible extension of the temporary Social Security payroll tax cut and heightened presidential power to raise the national debt limit.

In exchange, the president would back $600 billion in spending cuts, including $350 billion from Medicare and other health programs. But he also wants $200 billion in new spending for jobless benefits, public works projects and aid for struggling homeowners. His proposal for raising the ceiling on government borrowing would make it virtually impossible for Congress to block him going forward.

Republicans said they responded in closed-door meetings with laughter and disbelief.

The GOP plan is certain to whip up opposition from Democrats opposed to any action now on Social Security, whose defenders say should not be part of any fiscal cliff deal. And Democrats also are deeply skeptical of raising the Medicare age.

Both ideas were part of negotiations between Boehner and Obama in the summer of last year.


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