US & Canada

Fiscal cliff: Republicans call for talks with president

US House Speaker John Boehner speaks during a news conference on the fiscal cliff 5 December 2012
Image caption "I'm available at any moment to sit down with the president," House Speaker John Boehner said

US President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have spoken by telephone amid a deadlock in efforts to strike a "fiscal cliff" deal.

Earlier, Republicans asked for a face-to-face meeting with Mr Obama to discuss the 1 January deadline to avoid steep tax rises and spending cuts.

"We can't negotiate with ourselves," Mr Boehner said.

The White House and Republicans have each proposed plans to reach a deal, but they remain divided over taxes.

The White House released no details of the call between Mr Obama and Mr Boehner.

But the president told business leaders on Wednesday that a fiscal cliff deal could pass quickly if Republicans agreed to tax rises on the wealthy - a key election-season pledge by Mr Obama.

He rejected any attempts to gain concessions from the White House through congressional brinkmanship.

The president said he did not wish to see a replay of his 2011 standoff with Republicans that brought the US close to defaulting on its debt and resulted in an embarrassing credit-rating downgrade.

"I will not play that game," Mr Obama said.

'Fairy dust'

Wednesday's phone call between the president and Mr Boehner was not followed by any public suggestion that top-level talks were set to resume.

"Nothing is going on" with the negotiations, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, following a meeting with fellow Republicans earlier in the day. "We ask the president to sit down with us."

Speaker John Boehner added: "I'll be available at any moment to sit down with the president."

The White House rejected a Republican counter-offer on Monday, because it did not include tax rises on the wealthiest.

The Republicans offered $800bn (£497bn) in higher tax revenue, without specifying how it would be raised, as well as cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits.

It countered a White House proposal for $1.6tn in new revenue, and $600bn in spending cuts, as well as an extension to a temporary payroll tax cut.

The White House has ridiculed Mr Boehner's approach as "fairy dust", while Mr Boehner said the Obama administration's offer was "not serious".

On Tuesday, Mr Obama said in an interview that he would consider eventually lowering top tax rates as part of a wider reform of the tax code in 2013.

The White House also signalled that it might agree to increase taxes for the wealthiest earners to less than 39.6%, which was the rate during the presidency of Bill Clinton.