Democrats, Republicans far apart on deficit deal

By ANDREW TAYLOR and DAVID ESPO, Associated Press

WASHINGTON - As the nation's debt soared past $15 trillion, congressional Republicans and Democrats struggled Wednesday to salvage a yearlong assault on federal deficits, their efforts hampered by politically charged disagreements over taxes and the future of enormously expensive government benefit programs.

The talks at a standstill, Democratic officials familiar with the work of Congress' debt-reduction supercommittee disclosed they had floated a secret counteroffer late last week to generally accept a Republican framework for a $1.5 trillion compromise, while differing on numerous key details.

Democrats signaled a willingness to cut spending by $876 billion, including $225 billion from Medicare and $50 billion from Medicaid, these officials said, and raise tax revenue by $400 billion, far less than they had earlier demanded.

They also recommended using $700 billion in unspent funds from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for a jobs program along the lines President Barack Obama wants, plus steps to protect the upper middle class from the alternative tax and extending financing for doctors who treat Medicare patients.

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