By Erik Wasson - 02/16/12 09:38 PM EST
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner fought back against GOP attacks on President Obama’s 2013 budget during a House hearing on Thursday.
A jovial Geithner rebuffed arguments from Republicans on the House Budget Committee that the White House alone is to blame for the lack of a long-term deficit solution, repeatedly turning the focus on GOP refusals to raise taxes on the wealthy and on proposals he said would increase healthcare costs for seniors.
“You can smile and laugh about it all you want," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said at one point, cutting him off.
Geithner made some admissions at the hearing off the bat, conceding that the Obama budget does not contain a complete tax reform proposal and does not address the long-term challenges of entitlements.
“If you want to bludgeon me into admitting there is no tax reform proposal in here ... I confess, we are not giving it you,” Geithner said.
On entitlement reform, he added: “You are right to say we are not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution. What we do know is we don’t like yours.”
GOP aides quickly touted these lines as flubs, but the moves allowed Geithner to open up lines of attack on the GOP by arguing Republicans had refused to engage in real budget negotiations over the last year.
Geithner repeatedly focused attention on the House-passed 2012 budget, saying it would put too much of a burden on the middle class by privatizing Medicare and shifting costs to beneficiaries.
“You get that savings by taking hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars out of lower-class and middle-class retirement programs,” he said.
“I am not minimizing long-term problems. I know them better than anybody,” he added.
Geithner said that if Republicans can come to the table and accept significant revenue increases, then progress on long-term problems can be made. Accepting the Obama budget, which has $1.5 trillion in new taxes, would be a first step, he said.
“If we can’t agree on the next 10 years, why are you are so focused on the next 100 years or millennium?” he asked.
“We see all this happy talk about coming together but we never see the proposals in your budget,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said.
Geithner punched back claiming the GOP had just spent six months trying to renege on U.S. debt obligations by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. “If you call that leadership that is fine with me,” he said.
Geithner asked rank-and file members “did leadership share with you their proposals?”
The Treasury secretary said Republicans were focused solely on getting a "25 percent" upper marginal income tax rate, and derided the idea, saying “that is not a tax reform plan.”
He told Chaffetz that repeatedly sending bills with no bipartisan support to the Senate failed to constitute legislative leadership “in a divided country, in a divided Congress.”
Geithner refused to say whether President Obama would push for the Senate to pass his 2013 budget. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has made it clear a budget resolution will not come to the floor this year.
“That is a budget process question,” he said, dismissively.
Instead Geithner pointed out that every element of the budget, from spending cuts to tax increases, could be taken up by the Congress and passed as regular legislation without a budget, if leaders would agree to come together.
He argued that Democrats have come closer to the GOP on entitlements and that if the GOP moved "a little closer" on taxes, the administration could move closer.
Ryan chose to focus on process, arguing that such "backroom deals" — which had led to many of the spending agreements of the past year — are not what the American people want.
"Wanna keep going?" Geithner said, smiling, at the end of his hearing.