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Roll Call

Administration, GOP Hold Fast to Tax Positions

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner arrives at the Capitol for meetings with House and Senate leaders Thursday.

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The White House and Congressional Republicans continued their rhetorical standoff Sunday as top officials dug in on their established policy positions and shrugged their shoulders at the idea of letting tax cuts expire Jan. 1.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who granted interviews to five news programs, and Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who spoke with Fox News, acknowledged that negotiations have reached an impasse and that going over the fiscal cliff of expiring tax breaks and scheduled discretionary spending cuts is possible.

Lawmakers have about three weeks before they intend to gavel the 112th Congress to a close and 29 days until the cuts are slated to begin.

“They’ve got to tell us what they’re willing to do on rates and revenues. That’s going to be very hard for Republicans, and we understand that, but there’s no way through this without that,” Geithner told “Fox News Sunday.” “And they have to tell us on the spending side, if they want to go beyond where we are, they have to tell us what makes sense to them. What we can’t do ... is try to figure out what works for them.”

“There’s a huge amount at stake,” Geithner told ABC News. “There’s just no reason why 98 percent of Americans have to see their taxes go up because some members of Congress on the Republican side want to block tax rate increases for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans,” he continued, before adding that the combination of tax increases and spending cuts “would be very damaging to everyday Americans, but there’s no reason it has to happen.”

Geithner met with top congressional leaders in four closed-door sessions Thursday on Capitol Hill to make a provisional offer to key players on behalf of the White House. The meetings occurred just one day before President Barack Obama traveled to Pennsylvania to frame the current debate in a way Geithner tried to reinforce Sunday — that if negotiators go over the fiscal cliff, it will be because the GOP was unwilling to approve tax cut extensions for 98 percent of Americans without ensuring that rates on families with incomes of more than $250,000 also remain unchanged.

Geithner’s offer, made Thursday and discussed further Sunday, was a framework that included $1.6 trillion in revenue, raising the estate tax to 2009 levels, increased spending on a multihundred billion dollar stimulus, beginning with $50 billion in 2013 and a permanent change in how the debt limit is increased that would make it easier for the president to extend the government’s borrowing capacity without congressional approval.

‘Nowhere. Period’

Boehner offered the Republican rebuttal to the White House media blitz, with Fox News reporting that his office reached out to them after Geithner was announced as a guest on all the major Sunday shows.

“The president and the White House have had three weeks, and this is the best we’ve got?” Boehner told “Fox News Sunday.” “Right now, I would say we’re nowhere. Period.”

The speaker was especially incredulous about changes in the practice of raising the debt ceiling.

“[It’s] silliness. Congress is never going to give up this power,” Boehner said, emphasizing the debt limit’s political value as a tool to force spending cuts. “It’s the only way to leverage the political process to create more change than it would if left alone.”

Boehner dismissed the Obama administration’s opening position, claiming the offer that was made this week included more stimulus spending than cuts. Though $1.2 trillion of discretionary spending cuts — half from domestic programs and half from military — are set to kick in at the beginning of 2013, Republicans especially are pushing for changes in the composition of the cuts.

“The president’s idea of a negotiation is ‘roll over and do what I ask,’” Boehner said.

When asked whether he would be willing to go over the cliff, Boehner did not offer a direct response.

“I’m determined to solve our debt problem. We have a spending problem, and it is going to be dealt with,” Boehner said. “We’re going to deal with America’s debt problem.”

The last in-person meeting between Obama and congressional leaders was Nov. 16. Officials had tentatively planned a meeting last week, but White House and Hill officials agreed that not enough progress was made to justify another high-level meeting. Staff work was minimal over the weekend but is expected to continue next week.

Other voices are continuing to weigh in on the debate, hoping to influence one or both sides.

“They’ve just been informed there’s no real reform in this budget at all,” Republican tax lobbyist Grover Norquist said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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