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GOP Senators See Politics in White House Fiscal Cliff Play

Republican senators charge that an offer circulated Thursday on Capitol Hill by Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is a blatant political ploy.

“Apparently the President wants us to go over the fiscal cliff. This is serious business. Demanding higher taxes, more stimulus, no spending cuts, and no plan to preserve and protect Social Security and Medicare will not solve our fiscal crisis, it will make the crisis much worse,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement issued Friday morning.

Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey expressed the same view late Thursday night.

“They clearly want to drive us off the cliff because they think Republicans will get blamed for it. So, it’s very cynical and very unfortunate,” he said.

Toomey also said that he thought the Obama administration offer on closing the federal budget deficit was so counterproductive to negotiations that there might as well have been no offer at all.

“It was completely unserious. It wouldn’t even be taken seriously by Democrats in Congress,” Toomey said. “It’s not constructive when the administration makes a completely unserious offer. In fact, it arguably moves to an even more untenable position than we had assumed that they had. So, no, this is not any form of progress.”

Toomey, who spearheaded a package of about $300 billion revenue-raisers during negotiations at the ill-fated deficit reduction panel known as the supercommittee, said he was not sure what the current round of leadership-level and White House talks should use as a jumping off point for serious negotiations.

“I’m not sure where the starting point should be,” Toomey said. “The fact is, Republicans put revenue on the table. Democrats are taking spending cuts off the table and insisting on absurdly high tax increases that are extremely counterproductive.”

In a Thursday afternoon interview with CQ Roll Call, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also blasted the proposal, which Republicans contend is just a rehashing of the president’s budget proposal from February. To that, outgoing Budget Chairman Kent Conrad said that the GOP needs to offer a counterproposal.

“Why don’t they make an offer, then? Why don’t they make an offer?” the North Dakota Democrat said. “They wanted the president to make an offer, he made an offer. They don’t like it? Why don’t they make an offer?”

Conrad has worked on a variety of deficit reduction frameworks over the past few years, both as Budget chairman and outside the formal role. Another retiring Democratic senator from the Midwest, Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, dismissed the idea that members of his party are not backing significant spending reductions.

“I don’t think the cuts … are being pushed off to the side,” Nelson said. “I think they’re still very much alive as part of the sequester, if another package to achieve the same objective isn’t achieved.”

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