Talks to avoid fiscal cliff grind to a halt

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Negotiations to resolve the nation's fiscal crisis came to a virtual standstill Thursday as congressional leaders and the White House dug deeper into their partisan positions.

After a high-profile visit from senior administration officials to Capitol Hill, both sides claimed that the other hasn't made a serious offer to avert the fiscal cliff -- the tax hikes and spending cuts that would be triggered without an agreement at year's end, and which could send the economy into recession.

Senior administration officials floated an offer that was immediately rejected by the GOP. They proposed $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.

The plan offered $400 billion in spending cuts from Medicare and other programs, and it sought $50 billion in economic stimulus measures, according to two Republican sources.

Democrats are demanding Republicans pass an extension of the Bush-era tax rates for households making under $250,000 a year and have accused the GOP of failing to come up with specifics on revenue and spending cuts. Republicans, demanding that the Bush-era rates for all income groups be extended, accused President Barack Obama of failing to detail spending cuts needed to win support from House and Senate Republicans.

The White House offer produced a withering response from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) after a closed-door meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim 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, "No substantive progress has been made between the White House and the 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.

"There can be no deal without rates on top earners going up," said presidential press secretary Jay Carney. "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."

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