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Boehner moves to 'Plan B' to avert tax increases for earners under $1M

Updated 11:38 a.m. -- House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will introduce "Plan B" legislation to extend the Bush-era tax rates for those making $1 million and below as a backstop for the "fiscal cliff" talks. But Democrats have rejected the plan, saying that it cannot pass the Senate and does not "ask enough" of top earners. 

The proposal, which Boehner described as a less desirable alternative to a larger "balanced" deal with the White House, would mean that rates would go up for the highest earners, while taxes would remain at current levels for the majority of Americans. President Barack Obama had originally called for tax rates to increase at a lower threshold, for those households earning over $250,000 per year; his administration made a new offer to Republicans last night raising that threshold to $400,000.

House Speaker John Boehner and members of his House GOP leadership team hold a briefing to discuss the latest on the fiscal cliff negotiations.

"I continue to have hope that we can reach a broader agreement with the White House that would reduce spending as well as have revenues on the table," Boehner said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. "I think it would be better for our country, but at this point, having a backup plan to make sure that as few American taxpayers are affected by this increase as possible ... is the right course of action for us." 

Boehner continued to criticize the president's overall offer as too light on spending cuts. "What we've offered meets the definition of 'balanced,' but the president is not there yet," he said.  

White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement that Boehner's alternative still "doesn't ask enough" of top earners. 

Obama "is not willing to accept a deal that doesn’t ask enough of the very wealthiest in taxes and instead shifts the burden to the middle class and seniors," Carney said. "The Speaker’s “Plan B” approach doesn’t meet this test because it can’t pass the Senate and therefore will not protect middle class families, and does little to address our fiscal challenges with zero spending cuts."

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, arrives for a closed-door meeting with House Republicans as he negotiates with President Obama to avert the fiscal cliff, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also shot down the House plan as a non-starter, arguing that it cannot pass both chambers of Congress. 

"Speaker Boehner's 'plan B' is the farthest thing from a balanced approach," Reid said in a statement. "It will not protect middle class families because it cannot pass both Houses of Congress. The Senate bill is the only 'plan B' that can be signed into law and prevent taxes from rising by $2,200 on the average middle-class family." 

Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck retorted that the president's rejection of the alternative plan "defies common sense." 

"After spending months saying we must ask for more from millionaires and billionaires, how can they reject a plan that does exactly that?" he said. "By once again moving the goal posts, the President is threatening every American family with higher taxes."

A Republican leadership aide said earlier Tuesday that the second-track plan to prevent tax increases for most Americans does not mean that negotiations between the speaker and the president have stalled.   Both sides say that they are hopeful that a larger deal can be struck, and talks continue between the White House and GOP. 

But action on the tax cut extension for all but the highest earners would provide a second path to prevent tax increases after the first of the year that could shake the American economy. 

Boehner said that the "Plan B" bill is likely to see action on the floor later this week. It will not address the automatic defense cuts - or "sequestration" --  that are part of the larger fiscal cliff puzzle, he said. 

Republican leaders are looking at the White House's latest fiscal cliff proposal, which includes a $2.4 trillion dollar deficit reduction package and tax hikes on incomes over $400,000, marking the first time the Obama administration has changed its stance on tax rates. NBC's Chuck Todd reports. 

Asked by NBC's Luke Russert about the effect of the Newtown school shootings last week on partisan wrangling over the cliff, Boehner acknowledged the effect the tragedy has had on the American people. 

"It's not a time to put Americans through more stress," he said.  

NBC's Carrie Dann contributed to this report.