House Speaker John Boehner speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday.(Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)
Susan Davis, USA TODAY
6:43PM EST December 11. 2012 - WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner publicly on Tuesday called on President Obama to outline specific spending cuts, as he chided the White House for delaying progress on ways to avoid the "fiscal cliff."
Privately, the speaker sent a revamped proposal to the White House outlining his latest counter-offer that includes tax and entitlement overhauls. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel declined to offer details of the latest proposal but said Republicans are "still waiting for the White House to identify what spending cuts the president is willing to make."
In his first public comments since meeting face-to-face with Obama this weekend, Boehner said he is still optimistic that a deal can be reached.
"We're still waiting for the White House to identify what spending cuts the president would make," Boehner, R-Ohio, said on the House floor. "The longer the White House slow walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff."
Boehner said Obama has an "obligation to put forward a plan that can pass both chambers."
"The irony of this is that the White House offer had very specific cuts, the GOP counteroffer had almost none," tweeted White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer in response to Boehner.
Obama and Congress are trying to avoid wreaking havoc on the economy when Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of the year and billions of dollars in spending cuts to defense and domestic programs start to kick in shortly after.
If taxes go up and the automatic spending cuts go into effect, the economy could be thrown into a recession by the third quarter of 2013, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., spoke right after Boehner, saying Obama and congressional Democrats have already agreed to $1.6 trillion in spending cuts. She called on Boehner to let the House vote on a bill, already passed by the Senate, that would extend tax cuts on the middle class.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called the speaker's comments "disappointing" and countered that if Republicans want more spending cuts, it's their responsibility to offer specifics. "Outlne them. Show us how the math works," Hoyer said.
Negotiations were at a standstill last week, but Boehner's surprise Sunday visit to the White House has reinvigorated optimism that a deal can be reached.
Boehner, R-Ohio, and the president have been tight-lipped about the details of their private negotiations, but the speaker has repeatedly made it clear that a final deal has to include greater concessions on spending cuts and entitlement programs if it stands a chance of passing the GOP-controlled House.
In recent days, Republicans have focused on three concessions that could inch Washington closer to a deal: raising the Medicare eligibility age, making wealthier seniors pay more for their benefits, and changing the way cost-of-living adjustments are calculated for Social Security benefits. Democrats traditionally oppose all three of those proposals.
During an interview with ABC News Tuesday, Obama did not rule out raising the Medicare eligibility age, "When you look at the evidence, it's not clear that it actually saves a lot of money," he said. "But what I've said is let's look at every avenue, because what is true is we need to strengthen Social Security, we need to strengthen Medicare for future generations, the current path is not sustainable because we've got an aging population and health care costs are shooting up so quickly."
Boehner also has not budged publicly from his opposition to raising the individual tax rates on the top 2% of earners, which is the foundation of Obama's tax proposal. The president has said there will be no deal unless Republicans relent on their opposition.
Pelosi said Democrats would agree to changes on entitlements as long as the middle class would not be hurt. "It's not about the price of the high-end tax cut. It's about the money it generates," she said. "But it is not to burden the middle income in order to have bigger tax cuts at the high end."
Obama also wants any deal to include a guarantee to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling, the U.S. government's borrowing authority, to eliminate the threat of default when it comes up in mid-February.
(Contributing: Catalina Camia)