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Boehner tells Obama to put deal on the table, amid growing caucus discontent

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FILE: Dec. 5, 2012: House Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio, and the House GOP leadership leave after a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.AP

House Speaker John Boehner emerged Wednesday from a meeting with fellow Republican congressional leaders and urged President Obama to meet face to face on solving the country’s looming fiscal crisis or send a deal to Congress on which both chambers can agree.

“We need a response from the White House,” said Boehner, who sent a proposal Monday to the White House. “We can't sit here and negotiate with ourselves. … If the president doesn't agree with our proposal and our outline, I think he's got an obligation to send one to the Congress.”

The president and congressional Republicans are at a stalemate on how to check the country’s rising $16 trillion debt and to reduce its budget deficits, which have topped $1 trillion for several straight years. The president has so far insisted on raising tax rates for the country’s highest earners and appears willing to make cuts to entitlement programs. Republicans have called for changes to the tax code to boost revenue, instead of tax rate increases, along with bigger spending cuts.

The president and Boehner spoke by phone Wednesday afternoon, sources told Fox News.

Boehner insists he will not increase tax rates on any Americans and says the deficit can be reduced by closing loopholes and making other such changes to the tax code. However, he is facing what appears to be a growing discontent within the caucus, in part from Republicans who appear willing to increases tax rates to avert the fiscal crisis looming next month.

A few dozen Republicans reportedly have signed a letter with Democrats that calls for “all options” on taxes and entitlements.  

One signer, Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, told Bloomberg News that he could accept higher tax rates for married couples earning more than $500,000 annually in exchange for cuts to such entitlement programs as Medicare.

The president’s plan would extend the existing low income tax rates for couples making $250,000 annually and individuals making $200,000, or the largest 2 percent of incomes.

Should Congress and Obama fail to reach a compromise deal or reducing the deficit, a mix of roughly $500 billion in tax increases and federal spending cuts will kick in Jan. 1.

The president late last week sent Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to Capitol Hill with a plan that called for $1.6 trillion in tax increases, roughly $600 billion in spending cuts and about $200 billion in additional spending on stimulus initiatives and other programs.

Boehner, who said he was “flabbergasted” by the offer, made a counter-proposal Monday that included $800 billion in revenue through tax reforms; $600 billion in health savings; $300 billion in other entitlement savings; and another $300 billion in savings elsewhere in the discretionary federal budget. 

Conservative lawmakers criticized him for the revenue plan, and on Wednesday he faces criticism for allegedly removing Tea Party-backed Rep. Tim Huelskamp and three other conservative House Republicans off of key committees for voting against House leadership too often.

“The GOP leadership might think they have silenced conservatives, but removing me and others from key committees only confirms our conservative convictions,” Huelskamp said. “This is clearly a vindictive move.”

Boehner’s offer was dismissed by the White House. But reporters grilled White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday on whether the president would back down from his proposal to raise the marginal tax rate on the country’s highest earners from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. Only income earned above the $250,000 and $200,000 thresholds would be taxed at the higher rates.

“The president has made clear he is willing to move off of his proposal, that he's not wedded to every detail of his plan,” Carney said. “But on the fundamental issue of balance and where revenues have to come from, Republicans need to acknowledge reality here, because rates have to go up. ... I'm not going to negotiate the fine details.”

In addition, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is adding pressure on House Republicans with a new website and online petition demanding that 40 “vulnerable” congressmen allow a vote on extending lower middle-class tax rates.

“These 40 Republicans will be holding the middle class hostage if they don’t back an extension of middle class tax cuts because they’re demanding more tax cuts for millionaires," the website says.

The groups says 154 members of Congress have so far signed a petition that will force a vote on the Senate-passed extension of tax cuts for the middle class once it reaches 218.