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 turned testy.
In exchange, the officials said, President Obama will support an unspecified amount of spending cuts this year, to be followed by legislation in 2013 producing savings of as much as $400 billion from Medicare and other benefit programs over a decade.
The offer produced a withering response from House Speaker John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) after a closed-door meeting in the Capitol with Treasury Secretary Timothy 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.
Boehner added that "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 was the fault of Republicans who refuse to accept Obama's campaign-long call to raise tax rates on upper incomes.
At the White House, presidential 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 seemed more likely to mark a transition into hard bargaining rather than signal an end to efforts to achieve a compromise on the first postelection challenge of divided government.
Boehner suggested as much when one reporter asked if his comments meant he was 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."
In political terms, the White House proposal is a near mirror image of what officials have said Republicans earlier laid down as their first offer - a permanent extension of income tax cuts at all levels, an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility and steps to curtail future growth in Social Security cost-of-living increases.
In exchange, the GOP has offered to support unspecified increases in revenue as part of tax reform legislation to be written in 2013.