US President Barack Obama and Republicans waged a new spat over spending cuts Tuesday, as time ran short and little progress was evident towards ending a vexing year-end austerity and tax crisis.
After days dueling over Obama’s demand for higher taxes on the rich, each side accused the other of failing to lay out specific spending cuts, digging in to familiar positions on the showdown known as the “fiscal cliff.”
If the two sides cannot agree a deal before the end of the year, taxes will go up on all Americans and automatic and savage cuts to government spending will begin, prompting fears the economy could dive into a new recession.
Top Republicans accused Obama of failing to lay out spending reductions that they say are needed for them to bargain on tax rates, saying he was running down the clock and could force America past the damaging January 1 deadline.
“The longer the White House slow-walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff,” Republican House speaker John Boehner said.
“We’re still waiting for the White House to identify what spending cuts the president is willing to make as part of the balanced approach that he promised the American people,” Boehner said on the House floor.
“Where are the president’s spending cuts?” he asked, referring to Obama’s proposal to pare the runaway debt by raising $1.6 trillion in new tax revenues.
Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, made a similar charge, and then told reporters “we’re running out of time.”
At the White House, however, spokesman Jay Carney insisted that Obama had laid out clear, detailed savings, in a deficit reduction document he sent to Congress in September 2011.
“The president, unlike any other party to these negotiations, has put forward detailed spending cuts as well as detailed revenue proposals,” Carney said.
Obama and Boehner met Sunday at the White House for a meeting described by both sides as “cordial.”
The White House said it was deliberately not revealing details of any talks with Republicans in the hopes of not prejudicing progress.
Boehner has also remained tight-lipped, but said Tuesday that he was “hopeful that we can reach an agreement.”
It was tough to tell amid radio silence from both sides whether Tuesday’s posturing masked intensifying behind-the-scenes talks.
It was also unclear whether Republicans decided to switch the conversation to spending as they thought they were losing the tax issue, as polls show a majority of Americans back Obama’s call to raise taxes on the rich.
If there is no deal by January 1, tax cuts passed under former president George W. Bush will expire and all Americans will get a tax hike.
Obama wants to extend the cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers, but to allow rates on the top two percent to go up from 35 percent to 39.6 percent.
Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for everyone, and make up the revenue that both sides agree is needed to chip away at the deficit by closing loopholes and capping some deductions.
Obama says that such an approach will not secure sufficient funds and there is no alternative for well off Americans paying more.