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Obama, Boehner trade partisan jabs over fiscal cliff

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner swapped partisan charges Wednesday but carefully left room for further negotiations on a deal to head off year-end tax increases and spending cuts that threaten the national economy.

Republicans should "peel off the war paint" and take the deal he's offering, Obama said sharply at the White House. He buttressed his case by noting he had won re-election with a call for higher taxes on the wealthy, then he said pointedly that the nation aches for conciliation, not a contest of ideologies, after last week's mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

But Obama drew a quick retort from Boehner when the White House threatened to veto a fallback bill drafted by House Republicans that would prevent tax increases for all but million-dollar earners. The president will bear responsibility for "the largest tax increase in history" if he makes good on that threat, the Ohio Republican declared.

In fact, it's unlikely the legislation will get that far as divided government careens into the final few days of a "fiscal cliff" struggle. Boehner expressed confidence the Republicans' narrow so-called Plan B bill would clear the House today despite opposition from some conservative, anti-tax dissidents, but a cold reception awaits in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

As for a broader agreement, officials said there had been little if any progress toward closing the gap between the two sides in the past two days.

On paper, the two sides are relatively close to agreement on major issues, each having offered concessions. But political considerations are substantial, particularly for Republicans.

After two decades of resolutely opposing any tax hikes. Boehner is asking fellow Republicans to vote for legislation that lets income-tax rates rise on million-dollar filers.

Democrats had their own issues. Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Jim McDermott of Washington announced their opposition to a provision that Obama is backing to slow the growth of cost-of-living benefits for Social Security and other benefit programs.

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