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Speaker of the House John Boehner took to his chamber's floor today with an update on negotiations over the federal budget. As the clock ticks toward automatic spending cuts and tax hikes, Boehner gave the impression that little has changed.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Where are the president's spending cuts? The longer the White House slow-walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff.
SIEGEL: But later in the day, we got word of new offers and counteroffers. NPR's Tamara Keith joins us now from Capitol Hill. And, Tamara, first, what's the news on the negotiations?
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, there have, in fact, been new offers and new - and a new counteroffer. According to a spokesman for Speaker Boehner, the - they - the speaker and House Republicans sent the White House a counteroffer that they say would achieve tax and entitlement reform to solve our looming debt crisis and create more American jobs. There weren't any specifics about what was actually in that offer, and they're still calling on the White House to indentify the spending cuts that the White House wants. And, of course, Democrats are arguing that, in fact, it's the Republicans that need to identify the specifics of what they want. That's the argument that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made today again.
SENATOR HARRY REID: If Republicans want more spending cuts, tell us what you want. That's what I say to them. We can't read their minds. We're not going to make a proposal for them.
SIEGEL: Tamara, this is starting to sound like a staring contest?
KEITH: Yeah. You blink first. No, you blink first. And, you know, the reality is that nobody really wants their fingerprints on these spending cuts. You know, someone is going to feel pain when spending is cut. And, you know, neither side wants to be the one who came up with the idea that took away grandma's Medicare. So Speaker Boehner's counteroffer, you know, as far as we know, only contains very broad outlines, dollar figures of what they'd like to see, and no specifics. And then on the other side, Democrats aren't offering a lot of specifics either because nobody wants those fingerprints.
SIEGEL: Well, for sometime now, the White House has been saying that the president would be open to spending cuts if Republicans would accept higher tax rates on the wealthy. Seems like a growing number of Republicans are suggesting that they very, very grudgingly accept rate increases. Where are the Democrats on spending cuts?
KEITH: Very uncomfortable. Today, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had an op-ed in USA Today, saying that raising the Medicare eligibility age is a bad idea. Senate Democrats, some of them, held a press conference decrying possible cuts to Medicaid, and they don't want Social Security on the table either. You know, neither side feels particularly comfortable with these negotiations between two men and then they're all supposed to sign off in the end. And they're afraid they'll lose something.
SIEGEL: And all this - the clock really ticks through this week. This is an important deadline this week.
KEITH: Well, we're getting very close to Christmas and - when everyone should, in theory, be going home.
SIEGEL: OK. Tamara, thanks.
KEITH: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tamara Keith on Capitol Hill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.