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Standing Fast on Cliff, Both Sides Dig In

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Boehner and House Republicans presented a counteroffer to the White House’s fiscal cliff plan Monday that did not include tax increases on high-income earners.

Democrats and Republicans now have formally traded offers on plans to avert the fiscal cliff, but neither proposal represents any significant movement from positions the two parties have held for more than a year.

With each side accusing the other of lacking seriousness, the two documents appear to be more public relations maneuvers than bargaining chips, and lawmakers appear no closer to a deal than they were weeks ago.

As Democrats battered them over the need to respond to President Barack Obama’s Nov. 29 offer, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and House Republicans returned the White House’s volley on Monday, presenting the president with a counteroffer aimed at averting the fiscal cliff and reducing the deficit by $2.2 trillion.

The plan did not, however, propose higher tax rates for high-income earners, and so within two hours, the White House rejected it.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats were clear on how Congress would move forward. Some aides suggested that the mere fact that Republicans released a counteroffer was productive for talks, which Boehner said as recently as Sunday were “nowhere.” No Democratic source, however, seemed to view the GOP effort as serious, given it is largely a reiteration of the party’s stance from the 2011 debt limit talks.

Even as Democrats conceded Obama’s opening offer was largely cosmetic, too, they still feel they remain the party with leverage.

“This proposal contains no new concessions from the Republicans. It is a Republican wish list, just like the president’s opening position represented his ideal scenario,” one Senate Democratic aide said. “The difference is, the election showed the public prefers the president’s approach.”

The GOP offer came a few days after Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner came to the Capitol with a proposal that was summarily rejected by House and Senate Republicans. That plan, largely mirrored by Obama’s budget blueprint from February, proposed $1.6 trillion in tax hikes and a permanent fix to the brinkmanship over the debt limit, among other things.

Boehner told reporters in a private meeting Monday that he offered a major concession by putting revenue through tax reform on the table after the elections and was dismayed by the White House’s opening offer.

“Unfortunately the White House responded with their la-la-land offer that couldn’t pass the House, couldn’t pass the Senate,” Boehner said. “We could have responded in kind but decided not to do that. And what we are putting forth is a credible plan that deserves serious consideration by the White House.”

Mere hours later, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement that the GOP plan “does not meet the test of balance.”

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