WASHINGTON, Dec 18 (Reuters) - The White House defended its
latest offer in negotiations to avert the looming "fiscal cliff"
against both Republican criticism that President Barack Obama
did not go far enough and possible liberal concerns that the
president conceded too much, saying it is a "good faith" effort
to reach a compromise.
"The president has demonstrated an obvious willingness to
compromise and move more than halfway toward the Republicans,"
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
Obama on Monday proposed a deal that would raise $1.2
trillion in tax revenues in part by allowing tax rates to rise
on Americans earning more than $400,000 a year. The president
offered Republicans just over $1.2 trillion in spending cuts
that would come in part from reductions in Social Security
benefits to elderly Americans in return.
Obama and Congress are seeking a deal to avert sweeping tax
increases and deep, automatic spending cuts - dubbed the "fiscal
cliff" - due to go into effect next month.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top
Republican in Congress, greeted the president's latest proposal
as a positive step but faulted it for providing too little in
the way of spending cuts.
Boehner came back with a plan to let taxes rise only on
those making more than $1 million a year even as broader budget
talks continue, an offer the White House rejected within hours.
"The proposal essentially is to give another big tax cut to
the wealthiest Americans at a time when we cannot afford it,"
The Obama administration said its concessions were the price
of making a deal and included provisions to shield people on
whom some of the changes might fall particularly hard. The
president pledged during his successful re-election campaign
that he would seek tax hikes on those earning above $250,000.
"The fact that he's willing to compromise and have rates go
up on those making $400,000 and above as opposed to $250,000 and
above demonstrates his good faith effort here to reach a
compromise," Carney said.
By changing the way cost-of-living increases in Social
Security benefits would be calculated, the administration
estimated it could trim spending by $130 billion over 10 years.
Democrats have sought to prevent a wide-ranging deficit
reduction process from cutting into Social Security benefits.
Carney defended the cost-of-living offer as "technical." He said
it reflects a movement to reform cost-of-living adjustments that
many economists believe overstate the rise of inflation.
"This is a technical adjustment that supporters of it and
economists - outside economists - say is meant to make the
government's estimates of inflation more accurate," he said.
As part of the president's proposal, there is a clause that
would protect vulnerable people, including the very elderly,
when it comes to Social Security recipients, he added.