WASHINGTON -- In a test of divided government, the White House and congressional Republicans bargained in secret and sparred in public Tuesday over a deal to prevent year-end tax increases on the middle class and spending cuts to the military as well as other federal programs.
Details were sparse and evidence of significant progress scarcer still, although officials said the president had offered to reduce his initial demand for $1.6 trillion in higher tax revenue over a decade to $1.4 trillion. There was no indication he was relenting on his insistence that tax rates rise at upper incomes.
Boehner sounded unimpressed in remarks on the House floor at midday. "The longer the White House slow-walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff," he said, declaring that Obama had yet to identify specific cuts to government benefit programs that the president would support as part of an agreement that also would raise federal tax revenue.
In rebuttal, the White House swiftly detailed numerous proposals Obama has made to cut spending, including recommendations to cull $340 million from Medicare over a decade and an additional $250 billion from other government benefit programs.
The House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, challenged Boehner to allow a vote on the president's proposal to extend most expiring tax cuts while letting them lapse at higher incomes. She predicted it would gain "overwhelming approval," even in the GOP-controlled House.
Republicans acknowledge that Obama has an advantage in one respect, citing his re-election last month after a race in which he made higher taxes on the wealthy a centerpiece of his campaign.
At the same time, Republicans hold powerful leverage of their own, the certainty that by spring the president will be forced to ask Congress to raise the government's borrowing authority.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said GOP lawmakers are determined to overhaul benefit programs so they can "meet the demographics of the country." He recently said Republicans want to curtail annual cost-of-living benefits for Social Security and other government benefits, as well as raise the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67 at some point in the future.