Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Wednesday appeared cool to a proposal to extend all of the expiring Bush tax cuts on a temporary basis.
Geithner, a top economic adviser to President Obama, called the plan a veiled attempt to extend the cuts permanently.
"If you put those politics aside, we're having a debate about what's the best policy for America right now," he said.
"What separates us is there are some people in Congress who want to permanently extend the tax cuts at the high end, the richest 2 percent of Americans, and that costs $70 billion. We think that would be irresponsible," Geithner said.
The Treasury secretary's comments are a sign that the White House is prepared to dig in on its position that the tax cuts for top income earners should not be extended, while an extension for those earning below that threshold should be authorized.
Several lawmakers from both political parties have floated the idea of a temporary extension that lasts 12 to 24 months so tax rates do not climb for any people during the recession. By comparison, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) introduced legislation this week to make the cuts permanent.
The administration has held firm that extending the tax cuts for individuals making more than $200,000 and families earning $250,000 or more would blow too big a hole in the already expanding federal budget deficit.