Agreement on U.S. tax hikes still appears to be far off

White House officials said the Obama administration is still negotiating with Republicans in Congress on a looming fiscal crisis. Both sides are far apart in their negotiations, less than a month before big tax increases and spending cuts are set to take effect.

President Barack Obama has met only once with top lawmakers to discuss the budget dispute, which Democrats and Republicans agree could damage the U.S. economic recovery.

But White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday the two sides have been holding a series of lower-level meetings to advance the talks.

“I can guarantee you that conversations continue at different levels among different groups,” said Carney. “Whether there are emails being exchanged at this moment, I cannot say, but broadly speaking, there are conversations taking place.”

So far, each side has rejected the other’s proposals.

In an interview with Bloomberg News on Tuesday, President Obama said Monday’s counteroffer by John Boehner, a Republican who is speaker of the House, was not acceptable.

“We have the potential of getting a deal done, but it is going to require what I talked about during the campaign, which is a balanced, responsible approach to deficit reduction that can help give businesses certainty and make sure that the country grows,” he said. “And unfortunately, the speaker’s proposal right now is still out of balance.”

Boehner and other Republicans last week shunned a White House plan, which would raise taxes on the richest Americans.

In a written statement Tuesday, Boehner said the president has offered a plan that could not pass either house of Congress.

The top Senate Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Obama needs to get serious about the negotiations.

The president, meanwhile, invited several state governors from both parties to the White House Tuesday to hear their thoughts on the issue. The governors, including Republican Gary Herbert of the western state of Utah, agreed that urgent action is needed to avert the fiscal crisis before Jan. 1.

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