WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans remained far apart on Wednesday in their positions as negotiations continue to avert the fiscal cliff of expiring tax cuts and government spending cuts at the end of the year.
Although Obama and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican John Boehner, continue to speak by telephone, and their aides confer, public statements indicate that major differences remain.
Wednesday began with Boehner accusing the president of failing to put forward specifics, asserting Obama has proposed mainly tax and spending increases.
"The plan does not fulfill his promise to bring a balanced approach to solving this problem. It is mainly tax hikes. And his plan does not begin to solve our debt crisis; it actually increases spending," Boehner said.
"What we hear from the president is continuing discussion only on one side of the ledger. It has been about tax rate increases, and nothing about spending," said Eric Cantor, the Republican House Majority leader.
Press secretary Jay Carney said Obama believes a deal can be achieved, but will not yield on his pledge to extend Bush-era tax cuts for lower income earners, while asking wealthier Americans to pay more.
"He is eager to find a compromise, he understands that would require tough choices by him and Democrats. But a position that says we want tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and that is our No. 1 priority, is not a position that the president could ever sign on to," Carney said.
Carney said he would not dispute reports citing unnamed congressional and other officials, describing Obama's conversation with Boehner the previous day as tense.
New details emerging Wednesday included an apparent Boehner proposal to permanently extend Bush-era tax rates for all taxpayers, including the top 2 percent.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader in the House, said Republicans have failed to lay specifics on the table.
"All we have seen from them is a letter, all we heard from them is they don't want to tax the rich, all we know is that the public is very much on board with everyone in the country paying his or her fair share," Pelosi said.
The two sides continue to argue over the specific amount of revenue that would be raised from tax increases. Republicans offered $800 billion through unspecified tax reform steps Congress could take next year.
President Obama is now seeking $1.4 trillion in new revenue as part of a broader deficit reduction deal. The president says he is willing to make "tough decisions" regarding reforms of huge government entitlement programs.
From U.S. city mayors visiting the White House, including Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, Florida, Obama heard concerns about the negative effects on the economy of falling over the fiscal cliff.
"We think we need to get an agreement on this fiscal cliff. Let there be certainty for the markets to operate, for investors to put their money into growth, and we will see the economy grow significantly as a result of that," Buckhorn said.
The chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, said uncertainty about the fiscal cliff is already hurting the U.S. economy.
Opinion polls continue to show President Obama has an advantage in the fiscal talks. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found 49 percent approving of Obama's approach in the talks, with just 25 percent approving of Boehner's.
According to another poll by Bloomberg, 65 percent of Americans, including 45 percent of Republicans surveyed, say Obama won a mandate in the November election for his effort to raise taxes on higher income Americans.