WASHINGTON – At a stalemate in their talks to avoid a self-imposed fiscal crisis at the end of this month, the lead negotiators for the White House and Congressional Republicans used the Sunday morning news shows to defend their positions and blame the other side for the impasse.
"Right now I would say we're nowhere, period. We're nowhere," House Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said on "Fox News Sunday."
"We've put a serious offer on the table by putting revenues out there to try to get this question resolved," he said. "But the White House has responded with virtually nothing."
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner countered Mr. Boehner on Fox and the four other programs by outlining President Obama's proposals for long-term deficit reduction and insisting that Republicans were blocking compromise by their opposition to letting the Bush-era tax rates on high incomes expire as scheduled by law on Dec. 31. Mr. Obama and Democratic lawmakers want to extend the tax cuts on household incomes below $250,000 a year, but not for income above that level, as the president vowed in his re-election campaign.
"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 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans," Mr. Geithner said. "Remember, those tax rates, those tax cuts, cost a trillion dollars over 10 years."
"Those rates are going to have to go up," he added. "That's an essential part of a deal."
The televised jousting reflected the political posturing that is typical in the early stages of Washington budget negotiations, with leaders of each party seeking to persuade the public that their position is the right one and to bring pressure on the other side to compromise. Mr. Geithner was scheduled to give interviews on all five major Sunday shows, and Mr. Boehner, in turn, requested time on Fox late last week, prompting the network to cancel appearances by two senators it had booked.
The White House and Congress do not have much time for the usual negotiating games, with the year-end deadline looming and the holidays approaching. Absent a deal offering an alternative, across-the-board cuts in domestic and military programs and immediate tax increases for all Americans – the result of the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts -- would take effect in January. Together, the automatic spending cuts and tax increases would cut the deficit for fiscal year 2013 by more than $500 billion, an amount so sudden and large that economists say it would cause a recession. They have called it the "fiscal cliff."
"I don't want any part of going over the cliff," Mr. Boehner said on Fox.
Mr. Geithner, also on Fox, said it was a "decision that lies in the hands of Republicans who are now opposing an increase in the tax rates."
The goal of both Mr. Obama and Congress is a package of alternative spending cuts and revenue increases. Republicans, led by Mr. Boehner, have offered since the president's re-election to accept higher revenue, but they have refused to support a partial extension of the Bush tax cuts that would let the top income tax rates rise to 39.6 percent, the level that was in place during the Clinton administration, from the current 35 percent.
The separate television appearances of the two men came after their private meeting on Capitol Hill on Thursday, when Mr. Geithner outlined the president's positions for about $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the first 10 years to Mr. Boehner and the No. 2 Republican in the House, Eric Cantor of Virginia.
The specifics were the same as those proposed by Mr. Obama in his budget earlier this year, without any additional concessions. The proposal includes $1.6 trillion in new revenue from upper-income taxpayers; $600 billion in reduced spending for Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies and other programs; $1 trillion in other spending cuts that the president and Congress committed to last year for the coming decade; and an $800 billion reduction in projected war spending, reflecting the winding down of American combat operations overseas.
As he had late last week, Mr. Boehner dismissed the administration's offer as "a nonserious proposal" for including too little in spending cuts and too much in additional stimulus measures, and for letting the top income-tax rates rise, which Mr. Boehner said would hurt some small businesses. On television, he recounted his reaction to Mr. Geithner at the meeting last week.
"I was flabbergasted. I looked at him and said, 'You can't be serious,' " Mr. Boehner said. "I've just never seen anything like it. You know we've got seven weeks between Election Day and the end of the year, and three of those weeks have been wasted with this nonsense."
The speaker said Republicans had proposed "a dozen different ways" to raise additional tax revenue without raising rates. But he did not say what those were, and so far Mr. Boehner's office has not provided details. Administration officials said Republicans have made no specific proposals.
Generally, Republicans -- much like Mitt Romney in his presidential campaign -- have not specified how additional revenue could be raised over 10 years by limiting tax deductions for the wealthy rather than raising their rates. The White House and nonpartisan policy groups have done analyses showing that revenue cannot be raised on that scale without ending popular deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions and state and local taxes, even for some middle-income taxpayers.
Mr. Geithner, on the ABC News program "This Week," said the ball is "absolutely" in Republicans' court to specify alternatives.
"They understand that," he said of Republican leaders. "And when they come back to us and say, 'We would like you to consider this and we'd like you to consider that,' we'll take a look at that."
Mr. Geithner said Mr. Obama was willing to consider proposals to ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security, but as a matter separate from a comprehensive deficit-reduction agreement.
The president's bipartisan Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission in 2010 similarly called for Social Security to be considered separately since it operates as a pay-as-you-go system -- current revenues, mainly from workers' payroll taxes, are used to pay current beneficiaries – and because it is not contributing to deficit projections nearly as much as Medicare and Medicaid are as the population ages.
Republicans want the president to at least support a proposal that he tentatively agreed to in unsuccessful debt-reduction talks with Mr. Boehner in mid-2011. That proposal would alter the formula for calculating beneficiaries' cost-of-living adjustments in a way that would reduce future increases but, many economists say, would also more accurately reflect inflation.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.