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'Cliff' talks: Geithner invites GOP counter-offer

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is ready for difficult concessions to reach a deficit deal, but GOP lawmakers must first commit to higher tax rates on the rich and specify what additional spending cuts they want, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said.

"There's no path to an agreement that does not involve Republicans acknowledging that rates have to go up for the wealthiest Americans," Geithner said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

Geithner presented congressional leaders Thursday with Obama's postelection blueprint for averting the "fiscal cliff," the combination of hundreds of billions in tax increases and spending cuts that will take effect beginning in January if Washington doesn't act to stop it. But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, dismissed the plan as "not serious," merely a Democratic wish list that couldn't pass his chamber.

As outlined by administration officials, the plan calls for nearly $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue over the next decade, while making $600 billion in spending cuts, including $350 billion from Medicare and other health programs. But it also contains $200 billion in new spending on jobless benefits, public works and aid for struggling homeowners — and would make it virtually impossible for Congress to block Obama's ability to raise the debt ceiling.

With George W. Bush-era tax cuts expiring and across-the-board spending cuts possibly hitting in under a month, Boehner said the talks have reached a "stalemate."

But Geithner, appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," had a somewhat rosier view. "It's true that we're still a bit apart. And they're going to have to move further," he said. "(But) I do think we're going to get there."

He also said if Republicans don't think Obama is cutting enough spending, they should make a counter-proposal.

"We're open to suggestions," he said. "If they want to come back to us and say we'd like you to do this differently ... then they should lay that out for us."

In the past week, Obama has held a series of campaign-style appearances urging lawmakers to accept a Senate-passed measure extending tax cuts for all but the top 2 percent of wage-earners. He'll continue the effort when he meets on Tuesday with governors and then speaks on Wednesday to the Business Roundtable.

GOP leaders contend letting top-end tax cuts run out would hit small businesses and cost jobs.

Still, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander said Republicans will "hold our nose and raise some revenues" if the result is a deal that reins in runaway debt. But he said the onus is on Obama to knuckle down to talks.

"I'm ready for the president to get off the campaign trail, and get in the White House and get a result," Alexander told reporters in Nashville on Saturday. "Right now he's got the presidential limousine headed toward the fiscal cliff with his foot on the accelerator."

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Associated Press Writer Erik Schelzig in Nashville contributed to this report.

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