By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - Seeking to jump-start stalled talks on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, House Republicans on Monday proposed a new 10-year, $2.2 trillion blueprint to President Barack Obama that calls for increasing the eligibility age for Medicare and lowering cost-of-living hikes for Social Security benefits. The proposal from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other Republicans comes in response to Obama's offer last week to hike taxes by $1.6 trillion over the coming decade but largely exempt Medicare and Social Security from budget cuts.
The GOP plan also proposes to raise $800 billion in higher tax revenue over the decade but it would keep the Bush-era tax cuts - including those for wealthier earners targeted by Obama - in place for now.
Boehner said the GOP proposal is a "credible plan" for Obama and that he hopes the administration would "respond in a timely and responsible way." The offer comes after the administration urged Republicans to detail their proposal to cut popular benefits programs like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.
"After the election I offered to speed this up by putting revenue on the table and unfortunately the White House responded with their la-la land offer that couldn't pass the House, couldn't pass the Senate and it was basically the president's budget from last February," Boehner told reporters.
The Boehner proposal revives a host of ideas from failed talks with Obama in the summer of 2011. Then, Obama was willing to discuss politically controversial ideas like raising the eligibility age for Medicare, implementing a new inflation adjustment for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and requiring wealthier Medicare recipients to pay more for their benefits.
The clock is ticking closer to the end-of-year deadline to avert the fiscal cliff, which is a combination of the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that are the result of prior failures of Congress and Obama to make a budget deal.
Many economists say such a one-two punch could send the fragile economy back into recession.
Last week, the White House delivered to Capitol Hill its opening proposal: $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over a decade, a possible extension of the temporary Social Security payroll tax cut and heightened presidential power to raise the national debt limit.
In exchange, the president would back $600 billion in spending cuts, including $350 billion from Medicare and other health programs. But he also wants $200 billion in new spending for jobless benefits, public works projects and aid for struggling homeowners. His proposal for raising the ceiling on government borrowing would make it virtually impossible for Congress to block him going forward.
Republicans said they responded in closed-door meetings with laughter and disbelief.