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'Fiscal cliff' proposal: Is Obama trying to peeve GOP?

President Obama's fiscal cliff plan calls for, among other things, $1.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years. But what really appears to annoy Republicans is the lack of specificity on spending cuts.

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What’s the point of President Obama’s new proposal to end the “fiscal cliff” financial crisis? This question arises because Republicans seem genuinely startled and annoyed by the details of the plan. In their view, it’s a Democratic wish list instead of a starting line for serious negotiations.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told The Weekly Standard he “burst into laughter” after hearing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner outline the plan. “Nothing good is happening” in the fiscal cliff talks, Senator McConnell said.

Let’s back up and examine Mr. Obama’s offer. As expected, it calls for $1.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years. The president has long said that’s his dollar goal for new revenue and that raising rates on the top 2 percent of taxpayers is the only way to raise enough cash to get there.

FISCAL CLIFF 101: 5 basic questions answered

But the proposal also calls for $50 billion in immediate stimulus spending, according to the GOP. This would pay for some new national infrastructure, the continuation of extended unemployment benefits, and a deferral of looming reductions in Medicare physician reimbursements.

(We’ll note that this last detail, the “doc fix,” is something that both parties have agreed to for years. Whether it counts as new stimulus spending is thus open to interpretation.)

Obama’s plan also calls for eliminating congressional votes to raise the debt ceiling – a shift in institutional balance of power that lawmakers of both parties might resist.

But what really appears to peeve Republicans is the lack of specificity on spending cuts. The White House proposal identifies some upfront reductions in some programs, but only in vague terms, they say. It does propose $400 billion in long-term savings from Medicare and other entitlement programs, but only as a goal. Specifics are deferred for later negotiations.

“Unfortunately, many Democrats continue to rule out sensible spending cuts that must be part of any significant agreement that will reduce our deficit,” said House Speaker John Boehner after Thursday’s meeting with Secretary Geithner.

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