House GOP leaders press Obama to ‘engage’ in fiscal negotiations

House Republicans sounded a new tone of urgency over the “fiscal cliff” negotiations on Wednesday, with one party leader saying the “next 72 hours are critical” for President Obama to show he wants an agreement.

“We put an offer on the table. The president now has to engage,” the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), told reporters after a closed-door conference meeting. “I think the next 72 hours are critical. If he sits back and continues to play politics, that’ll give you the answer to where we’re going. This is an opportunity for the president.”

Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have not met since the two sides exchanged offers in the last week.

The Speaker defended the House GOP’s $2.2 trillion proposal, which calls for $800 billion in new revenues without raising tax rates on the wealthy.

“The revenues we’re putting on the table are going to come from – guess who? – the rich,” Boehner said at the press conference. “There are ways to limit deductions, close loopholes and have the same people pay more of their money to the federal government without raising tax rates, which we believe will harm our economy.”

While outside conservative groups have denounced Boehner’s offer, there has been no similar rebellion within his own conference.

Inside the private meeting, the Speaker told members: “if the president is serious about averting the fiscal cliff, he’s done nothing to demonstrate it,” according to a person in the room.

“If the president doesn’t like our offer, he has a responsibility to put forward a plan that can pass both chambers of Congress,” Boehner said in the meeting. “We’re ready to talk with the president immediately about a plan that can pass this chamber. We’re ready any time he is.”

Republicans are trying to hold the line on tax rates even as polls show more public support for the president’s position. A Pew survey released Tuesday found that more voters would blame Republicans than the White House if the nation went over the fiscal cliff on Jan. 1.

Still, GOP leaders said it was up to the president to lead, and they reiterated their opposition to the one plan the White House has put forward, which calls for $1.6 trillion in tax increases.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), the chief deputy whip, who served with Obama in the Illinois state senate, said he had the opportunity to be “a transformational president” but that his proposal to Republicans was “foolish.”

“House Republicans are prepared to get to yes. House Republicans are not prepared to get to foolish,” said Roskam.