J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner accused President Barack Obama on Tuesday of slow-walking negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff" and urged him to name specific cuts in government spending he would support as part of any compromise.
"Let's be honest. We're broke. The plan we offered is consistent with the president's call for a balanced approach," said the Ohio Republican, who has said he will accept higher tax revenue as part of a deal that also includes cuts in government benefit programs. "We're still waiting for the White House" to do the same.
The White House and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi countered the assertion within moments.
"The irony of this is that the White House offer had very specific cuts, the GOP counteroffer had almost none," tweeted the president's communications director, Dan Pfeiffer. White House aides circulated a summary pointing to more than $300 billion in proposed Medicare savings that are included in Obama's budget, as well as another $250 billion in non-health benefit programs.
There was no hint of progress in the flurry of public comments, although the rhetoric was kept relatively restrained, as if to avoid jeopardizing any negotiations that might be taking place.
In remarks on the House floor immediately after Boehner spoke, Pelosi also called on him and the Republican leadership to permit a vote on Obama's plan to extend expiring tax cuts for most Americans while letting them lapse at upper incomes. She predicted it would have "overwhelming support" — even in the GOP-controlled House.
The day's events underscored the difficulty confronting the White House and congressional leaders as they struggle to avert across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts in government programs that are scheduled to take effect at the turn of the year. Economists say the combination could send the economy into recession.
"The longer the White House slow-walks this process the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff," said Boehner.
Earlier, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was somewhat more critical in remarks of his own.
"The president seems to think that if all he talks about are taxes, and that's all reporters write about, somehow the rest of us will magically forget that government spending is completely out of control and that he himself has been insisting on balance," he said on the Senate floor.
He highlighted several government programs as examples of what he said was wasteful spending.
"A few weeks ago, Senator (Tom) Coburn issued a study that showed taxpayers are funding Moroccan pottery classes, promoting shampoo and other beauty products for cats and dogs and a video game that allows them to relive prom night," McConnell said. "Get this: Taxpayers also just spent $325,000 on a robotic squirrel named RoboSquirrel."
The two sides have presented rival initial offers in the cliff negotiations.
Obama's plan would raise $1.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years, in part by raising tax rates on incomes over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. He has recommended $400 billion in spending cuts over a decade.
He also is seeking extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut due to expire on Jan. 1, a continuation in long-term unemployment benefits and steps to help hard-pressed homeowners and doctors who treat Medicare patients.
The White House summary noted that Obama last year signed legislation to cut more than $1 trillion from government programs over a decade, and was proposing $600 billion in additional savings from benefit programs.
It also noted that the health care law that he signed into law showed savings of $100 billion. Much or all of that funding came from Medicare, even though Obama's aides insisted during his successful campaign for re-election that he had not made any cuts in it.
Boehner's plan, in addition to calling for $800 billion in new revenue, envisions $600 billion in savings over a decade from Medicare, Medicaid and other government health programs as well as $300 billion from other benefit programs and another $300 billion from other domestic programs.
It would trim annual increases in Social Security payments to beneficiaries, and it calls for gradually raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67, beginning in a decade.
AP White House correspondent Ben Feller contributed to this story.
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