WASHINGTON -- Republicans have to stop using "political math" and say how much they are willing to raise tax rates on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans and then specify the spending cuts they want, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said in an interview that aired Sunday.
Just four weeks from the proverbial fiscal cliff, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) countered that Republicans have a plan for providing as much as $800 billion in new government revenue over the next decade and would consider eliminating tax deductions on high-income earners. But when pressed on "Fox News Sunday" for precise details, he declined to say. There are "a lot of options in terms of how to get there," Boehner said.
Both Boehner's and Geithner's latest remarks indicate it could be some time before serious negotiations begin between the White House and Republicans on how to avert economic calamity expected when Bush-era tax cuts expire and automatic, across-the-board spending cuts kick in.
Last week, the White House delivered to Capitol Hill its opening plan: $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over a decade, hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending, a possible extension of the temporary Social Security payroll tax cut and enhancing the president's power to raise the national debt limit.
In exchange, the president would back $600 billion in spending cuts, including $350 billion from Medicare and other health programs. But he also wants $200 billion in new spending for jobless benefits, public works projects and aid for struggling homeowners. His proposal for raising the ceiling on government borrowing would make it virtually impossible for Congress to block him.
Republicans said they responded in closed-door meetings with laughter and disbelief. "I looked at him [Geithner] and I said, 'You can't be serious,' " Boehner said.
Republican leaders have said they accept higher tax revenue overall, but only through what they call tax reform -- closing loopholes and limiting deductions -- and only coupled with tough measures to curb the explosive growth of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. "If we gave the president $1.6 trillion of new money, what do you think he'd do with it?" Boehner said. "He's going to spend it. It's what Washington does."
Geithner, the administration's point man for negotiations, was slightly more optimistic while saying the ball was in Boehner's court. But the treasury secretary also said he didn't expect a counteroffer right away, as Republicans work to sort out tensions within the party in the wake of bruising national elections that left Democrats in charge of the White House and the Senate.
Boehner said in his interview, aired Sunday, that he wasn't happy with remarks by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who said he's ready to back Obama's plan to renew expiring tax cuts for most Americans and negotiate top earners' rates later.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Sunday she'll try to force a vote on the Senate-passed bill favored by Democrats.