Just four days before another threatened shutdown of the federal government, talks faltered again yesterday on a deficit-reduction package as top Bush administration officials and congressional leaders tangled over how to get more taxes from the wealthiest Americans.

Congressional leaders met late into last night in hopes of resolving the problem and will resume today in the Capitol.

Earlier, White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu and Office of Management and Budget Director Richard G. Darman hurriedly left the Capitol with other administration officials, saying they would consult President Bush about the impasse.

"There is a feeling that the president has gone well over half way to meeting their position and they haven't reciprocated," an administration official said of the Democrats, charging "a lack of seriousness on their side."

But Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) contended that "there's been give on both sides."

As the negotiations staggered, Congress marched on to a dubious record: Never since World War II have lawmakers adjourned less than 17 days before Election Day, now just 15 days away. The House was in session yesterday for only the eighth Sunday since World War II -- and the third this month.

The dispute centers on how best to raise taxes on those with taxable incomes higher than $1 million a year. "We hit millionaires, they hit millionaires," said an administration official. "They want to do it their way, we want to do it our way."

Yesterday, the Democrats offered two options: leveling off the top two marginal income tax rates at 31 percent and imposing a 7.5 percent surtax on millionaires, or a 32 percent top rate without a surtax, according to congressional officials.

The additional revenue generated by either change would have been used to ease two politically unpopular provisions: increases in Medicare premiums and a hike in the 9-cents-a-gallon federal gasoline tax, the officials said.

But Bush has said he would accept neither the surtax nor a top rate higher than 31 percent. "He's willing to tax the rich {but} the president will not accept their offer," Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) said after speaking with Bush by telephone.

Packwood, the Senate Finance Committee's ranking Republican, quoted Bush as saying: "Gosh, I've gone three-quarters of the way. I've given up things I didn't want to give up for the good of the country and I just don't want to give up any more."

Instead, administration officials would prefer to limit the benefit of federal income tax deductions claimed by millionaires, based on a plan proposed by Rep. Don J. Pease (D-Ohio). Yesterday, the administration proposed to disallow deductions equal to 4 percent of an individual's or couple's adjusted gross income in excess of $99,000 and 8 percent of income in excess of $1 million.

The latest Democratic version would reduce itemized deductions by 4 percent of the amount that a taxpayer's income exceeds $100,000, whether an individual or married couple filing jointly, in addition to imposing the surtax or raising the top rate.

"We have a different idea of how the rich should be taxed," Packwood said. "We feel it's better tax policy to limit deductions. . . . The Democrats would rather raise the rates."

The GOP plan to increase the limitations on deductions for millionaires would generate as much as $6 billion in new tax revenue over five years, while the Democratic surtax would generate $5.3 billion, Packwood said.

But limiting federal deductions creates both substantive and political problems. It would have an uneven effect, hitting hardest at those living in states and municipalities with high taxes. "Our problem is that it applies differently in different states," said House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). "The surcharge applies across the country in a uniform way."

It could also imperil the deficit-cutting package in the House, where lawmakers from such states as New York and California, which have high state and local taxes, have vowed to oppose any plan that would limit deductions. Half of the 10 GOP votes for the House bill came from the New York delegation.

"The Republicans are asking us to pass this with a preponderance of Democratic votes," Gephardt said. "We are saying that we want . . . {a package} that we can sell so we can pass it on the House floor."

The standoff developed as administration and Democratic negotiators discussed how to level off the top two marginal income tax rates, cutting the rate for about 3.5 million upper-middle-income taxpayers and raising it for the approximately 600,000 richest Americans.

Currently, married couples filing jointly pay a 15 percent rate on taxable income up to $32,450, a 28 percent rate on taxable income between that level and $78,400, a 33 percent rate between that level and $185,730 and a 28 percent rate on income above that.

Appearing on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley," Darman praised the idea as "a tax cut for. . . about nine or 10 times as many people as get a tax increase. The wealthiest would get a tax increase."

But congressional leaders from both parties said any cut in income tax rates for upper-middle-income taxpayers should be offset with higher taxes in other areas.

"You're giving them a tax break and they're relatively high income," Gephardt said. That could be achieved by either increasing the amount of income subject to the 1.45 percent Medicare payroll tax or by beginning to limit the benefit of deductions at a lower income level. Democrats have proposed raising the ceiling for the Medicare payroll from $53,100 to $140,000.

Another piece of the tax puzzle under discussion yesterday was how much to raise the federal gasoline tax. Democrats proposed raising it to 14 cents a gallon, a 5-cent hike, and Republicans offered an increase of about 7 cents averaged over five years.

One controversial item that has bedeviled tax negotiations all year long is apparently no longer under consideration: a cut in capital gains taxes. "It does not appear to me that that will be negotiable," Darman said. "It will have to wait for another day."