House Republicans responded to President Barack Obama today, proposing a new 10-year, $2.2 trillion blueprint for avoiding the looming "fiscal cliff." The plan, sent to the White House by House Speaker John Boehner, was unlikely to win Obama's approval, but it does go part way toward the president's demand that Republicans lay out spending cuts they would demand as negotiations on the budget crisis begin in earnest. The Republican plan calls for increasing the eligibility age for Medicare, the federal government's health insurance program for older Americans, and lowering cost-of-living increases for Social Security pension benefits that go to Americans of retirement age.
It does not, however, meet Obama's demand that tax rates be raised for American couples earning more than $250,000 a year and runs counter to his campaign promise to save Medicare from the chopping block. Obama and congressional Republicans have until Dec. 31 to reach an agreement on how to increase government revenue and cut spending to avoid big automatic tax increases on all Americans and massive cuts in government programs ranging from education to the military. Economists predict that a failure to avoid both the rise in taxes and the mandated spending cuts would send the fragile economy back into recession and cause a spike in already stubbornly high unemployment.