WASHINGTON — Once-upbeat talks over the nation's year-end budget crisis stalled Thursday as Republicans rejected the latest White House offer and emboldened Democrats held firm on President Barack Obama's insistence that wealthier Americans must pay more taxes.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, struck a gloomy note after speaking by phone with Obama late Wednesday and meeting Thursday morning with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in the Capitol.
Geithner presented the White House's latest offer, similar to its opening bid: $1.6 trillion in new revenues over a decade, largely from tax increases on the wealthy, as well as spending cuts the president had previously proposed.
The White House also wants $50 billion in new stimulus spending, aid to help homeowners refinance mortgages, $30 billion in extended unemployment benefits and a new process to make it easier to raise the federal debt limit debt, which must increase in a matter of months to prevent a default.
"I'm disappointed in where we are," Boehner said.
Four weeks remain before the nation hurtles off the $500 billion "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts, which experts warn could cause another recession. Tax rates in place for a decade are set to rise Dec. 31; days later, massive spending cuts will begin to slice the federal government.
Neither political party has budged from its starting position. Top Republicans also have refused Obama's call to pass a bill that would prevent a tax hike on 98 percent of households while talks continue.
As Obama prepares to take his proposal on the road today and with Republicans wary of being blamed for a New Year's tax hike of $2,200 on average Americans if no deal is struck, Democrats are increasingly buoyed, thinking they hold a stronger hand.
"Look, we don't expect the Republicans to be enthusiastic and start cheerleading about a deal that includes higher rates on the wealthiest Americans," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat. "But they see the handwriting on the wall."