Bolstered by his reelection, President Barack Obama on Thursday made a detailed opening bid to Congressional Republicans for averting the so-called fiscal cliff -- the mix of tax hikes and deep spending cuts that risk plunging the economy into a new recession come 2013. Republicans flatly rejected the offer, which mostly repackaged Obama's previous budget and jobs-creation plans while looking to avoid future fights over raising the country's debt limit.
Obama's proposal, delivered by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, called for $1.6 trillion in new tax revenues over 10 years plus some $400 billion in savings in popular entitlement programs including Medicare, the government health care plan for seniors. It also included some relief for Americans hit by the home foreclosure crisis and an extension of both the payroll tax holiday and unemployment assistance.
The package also includes a roughly $50 billion jobs plan, mostly infrastructure spending.
The White House is using the blueprint to address the thorny issue of hiking the federal debt limit.
Right now, Congressional approval is required before the federal debt ceiling can be raised. Opposition to boosting the debt limit by many Republican lawmakers in 2011 brought the U.S. government close to default. Still smarting from that debacle, the White House wants to give lawmakers the right to block a debt increase rather than vote to approve it.
The offer landed with a thud on Capitol Hill, where Republicans bluntly rejected it and expressed shock that the president would essentially stick to the plan he trumpeted starting in September 2011 and all through the campaign. It includes tax increases on the richest Americans, something Republicans have publicly refused to approve.
"I remain hopeful that productive conversations can be had in the days ahead, but the White House has to get serious," Boehner told reporters. "This is not a game. Jobs are on the line. The American economy is on the line. And this is a moment for adult leadership."
"No substantive progress has been made in the talks between the White House and the House over the last two weeks," Boehner charged.
In response, the White House redoubled its assault on Republicans for refusing to raise taxes on income above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for families.
"Right now, the only thing preventing us from reaching a deal that averts the fiscal cliff and avoids a tax hike on 98 percent of Americans is the refusal of Congressional Republicans to ask the very wealthiest individuals to pay higher tax rates," spokesman Josh Earnest said. "It's time for Republicans in Washington to join the chorus of other voices - from the business community to middle class Americans across the country - who support a balanced approach that asks more from the wealthiest Americans."
In a sign of the political gamesmanship at work, Republican aides — not the White House -- disclosed the offer even as they panned it. And the early response from White House aides was to point to Obama's victory over Mitt Romney to suggest that Americans will side with the president over his political foes.
Despite Boehner's blunt words, there have been signs on both sides that a compromise could be worked out. Some Republicans have publicly said they will support raising tax revenues, a party taboo, while the White House signaled that Obama would not insist that the wealthiest Americans pay the same tax rates they faced under Bill Clinton.
Chris Moody contributed to this report.