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'Fiscal cliff' negotiations turn testy

| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

WASHINGTON — 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” grew heated.

In exchange, President Obama will support an unspecified amount of spending cuts this year, to be followed by legislation in 2013 expected to produce savings of as much as $400 billion from Medicare and other benefits programs over a decade.

The offer yielded 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. “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 is the fault of Republicans who refuse to accept Obama's campaign-long call to raise tax rates on upper incomes.

White House 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 seems more likely to mark a transition into hard bargaining, rather than signal an end to efforts to achieve a compromise on the first post-election challenge of divided government.

Boehner suggested as much when one reporter asked if his comments mean he is 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.

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