Republican lawmakers and President Barack Obama
exchanged offers Tuesday in a bid to reach agreement on averting the
fiscal cliff of budget cuts and tax increases that take effect in
In interview excerpts released late Tuesday by broadcaster ABC News, Obama stuck a hopeful tone.
"I'm pretty confident that Republicans would not hold middle-class taxes hostage to trying to protect tax cuts for high-income individuals," he said. "I don't think they'll do that."
Speaker of the House John Boehner has sent a new proposal to Obama to "achieve tax and entitlement reform to solve our looming debt crisis and create more American jobs," a spokesman told the Washington Post, but declined to provide details of the plan.
Obama had sent the Republicans a counteroffer Monday with 1.4 trillion dollars in new revenue over 10 years, but few savings through social entitlement reforms, the newspaper Politico reported, citing unnamed sources.
Harry Reid, leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate, indicated it will be difficult to achieve a deal before Christmas.
"This is not something we can do easily," he said. "I think it's going to be extremely difficult to get it done before Christmas, but it could be done."
The conservative opposition Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, and Obama's left-leaning Democrats continued to accuse each other Tuesday of holding up negotiations.
"We're still waiting for the White House to identify what spending cuts the president is willing to make as part of the balanced approach that he promised the American people," Boehner said in Congress, just two days after meeting with Obama on Sunday at the White House.
"Where are the president's spending cuts? And the longer the White House slow-walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff."
White House spokesman Jay Carney refused to detail where talks stood - saying his goal was to be "extremely opaque" - but said Republicans were the ones failing to provide specific plans.
"Tt's simply not acceptable to have a deal where all these specific burdens are placed on the middle class and seniors and others on the one hand, and then there's some vague promise that tax reform will produce savings from wealthy Americans sometime in the future, without any specifics," Carney said.
"That can't be how it works."
The combined federal budget cuts and tax increases are projected to take a bite of more than 600 billion dollars out of the economy in 2013 alone, which could throw the United States back into recession.
Across-the-board income tax increases account for the largest part of the economic hit.
Obama has urged Congress to pass legislation freezing income tax rates for the bottom 98 per cent of earners. He has vowed to block any measure that prevents higher rates for households earning more than 250,000 a year.
Republicans have argued that higher rates in any income bracket would be damaging in a still-weak economy, and have countered with offers to reduce tax deductions, which disproportionately benefit the wealthy, to raise similar revenues.
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