It's a game of political chicken as the clock ticks closer to the end-of-year deadline, when George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire and automatic, across-the-board spending cuts kick in, sending the nation over a proverbial "fiscal cliff" that some economists say could plunge the fragile economy back into recession.
But based on the partisan rhetoric of those in charge of negotiating a deal, there's not going to be a solution any time soon.
"They have to tell us what makes sense to them, and then we can take a look at it," Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said of Republicans on NBC's "Meet the Press." ''But what we can't do is try to figure out what makes sense for them."
House Speaker John Boehner countered that Republicans have plenty of ideas, even if he doesn't want to discuss the specifics publicly.
"There are a lot of items on the table," Boehner told "Fox News Sunday." ''The president knows what they are. The question is what are they willing to do?"
Last week, the White House delivered to Capitol Hill its opening proposal: $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over a decade, a possible extension of the temporary Social Security payroll tax cut and heightened presidential power to raise the national debt limit.
In exchange, the president would back $600 billion in spending cuts, including $350 billion from Medicare and other health programs. But he also wants $200 billion in new spending for jobless benefits, public works projects and aid for struggling homeowners. His proposal for raising the ceiling on government borrowing would make it virtually impossible for Congress to block him going forward.
Republicans said they responded in closed-door meetings with laughter and disbelief.
"The administration has put something out that polls well: taxing the wealthy," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. "What they haven't done is anything to deal with entitlements, which is painful, and you're not going to have a deal until that happens."
Geithner called the back-and-forth "normal political theater," saying all that's blocking a timely deal is the GOP's reluctance to higher tax rates on the wealthy.
"It's welcome that they're recognizing that revenues are going to have to go up. But they haven't told us anything about how far rates should go up ... (and) who should pay higher taxes," Geithner said.
Republican leaders have said they can accept higher tax revenue overall, but only through what they call tax reform — closing loopholes and limiting deductions — and only coupled with tough measures to curb the growth of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
"If we gave the president $1.6 trillion of new money, what do you think he'd do with it?" asked Boehner. "He's going to spend it. It's what Washington does."
Geithner appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation," NBC's "Meet the Press," CNN's "State of the Union," ABC's "This Week," and "Fox News Sunday."
Associated Press writers Mark S. Smith and Michele Salcedo in Washington, and Erik Schelzig in Nashville contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.