House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday that "serious differences" remain between him and President Obama in negotiations on averting automatic spending cuts and tax increases that economists say could send the U.S. economy over a "fiscal cliff."
Boehner's comments came as top Democrats pushed back on Republican demands for tough steps such as raising the Medicare eligibility age and curbing the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security.
Boehner and Obama spoke on the phone Tuesday, a day after the president offered to reduce his initial demand for $1.6 trillion in higher tax revenue over a decade to $1.4 trillion. Obama continues to insist that much of the revenue come from raising top tax rates on the wealthy.
Boehner countered later Tuesday with another offer that GOP aides said stuck close to a document delivered to the White House a week ago. A top White House aide, Rob Nabors, came to the Capitol to respond. A Democratic official said Boehner's counteroffer included permanent extension of George W. Bush-era tax rates for all taxpayers including the top 2% of earners, the same as his earlier proposal. Boehner's plan offers $800 billion in new revenue through a tax measure next year.
The officials spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private talks.
Boehner on Wednesday offered a sour assessment less than three weeks before the cliff deadline. The changes would strike the economy with $500 billion worth of spending cuts and higher tax rates if left in place through September.
"There were some offers that were exchanged back and forth yesterday, and the president and I had pretty frank conversations about just how far apart we are," the Ohio Republican said after a closed-door meeting with fellow GOP lawmakers in which he advised them not to make plans for the week after Christmas.
Lawmakers expressed pessimism that a deal was close, despite increasing angst about a Dec. 31 deadline to stop the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and separate spending cuts that are the result of Washington's failure to complete a deficit-reduction deal last year.
"I think it's getting worse, not better," said House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy.
Obama met Wednesday with nine mayors from around the country and spoke to more on a conference call about the fiscal cliff. Following the meeting, the mayors said it was important for Congress to come to agreement with the White House on a "balanced approach."
Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Michael Coleman, a Democrat, said he did not "detect frustration" in Obama during the meeting. "But I can tell you that we're frustrated," he said. "And I think America is becoming frustrated."
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