No Deal in Sight as Deadline for Fiscal Cliff Nears

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
By JIM KUHNHENN

WASHINGTON (AP) - A last-gasp effort Thursday to avoid automatic tax increases and spending cuts got off on the same convulsive, partisan tone that marked congressional attempts to resolve the impasse before lawmakers headed home for Christmas.

With a Dec. 31 deadline for an agreement to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" rapidly approaching, leaders in each party demanded the other side take the initiative. The new flare-up happened despite a round of calls President Barack Obama made to congressional leaders by phone Wednesday night from Hawaii before he boarded Air Force One to head home from vacation.

In a potential sign of movement, Republican leaders planned to bring the House back into session on Sunday evening. But what legislation they would act on, if anything, remained unclear.

The market was glum, with stocks falling for the fourth day in a row amid the stalled negotiations and a report that consumer confidence had plunged to its lowest level since August.

Obama arrived back in Washington in late morning, not long after Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor to chastise House Republicans who last week opposed Speaker John Boehner's efforts to pass a narrowly crafted bill. Boehner's "Plan B" would have raised tax rates only on the very wealthiest Americans. But the opposition within his own party caucus forced the Ohio Republican to cancel a vote on the bill.

Reid charged Thursday that the House was "being operated with a dictatorship of the speaker."

"John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than about keeping the nation on sound financial footing," the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor.

Upon returning from a brief vacation, Obama faced what has become a familiar eleventh-hour scenario - one the GOP says is his fault - and even a stopgap solution was in doubt.

Without congressional action, current tax rates will expire on Dec. 31, resulting in a $536 billion tax increase that would touch nearly all Americans. Moreover, the military and other federal departments would have to cut $110 billion in spending.

But while economists have warned about the economic impact of tax hikes and spending cuts of that magnitude, both sides are increasingly proceeding as if Congress could still act in January in time to retroactively counter the effect on most taxpayers and government agencies without causing economic harm.

The issue has been Obama's first test of muscle after his re-election in November. Obama ran on a theme of having the wealthy pay a greater share toward deficit reduction with a focus on raising upper tax rates for individuals earning $200,000 or more and couples making more than $250,000. In negotiations with Boehner toward a deficit reduction plan of more than $2 trillion over 10 years, he offered to increase that threshold to $400,000, but those negotiations collapsed.

House GOP leaders this week put the burden on Reid, urging him in a statement Wednesday to take up a House-passed bill that would extend current tax rates to all taxpayers, a bill Obama has vowed to veto.

Reacting to Reid's floor remarks Thursday, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said: "Harry Reid should talk less and legislate more if he wants to avert the fiscal cliff. The House has already passed legislation to do so."

The White House said Obama, before leaving Hawaii, called Boehner, Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The White House statement said the president got an update on the "fiscal negotiations," but offered no detail on who, exactly, was negotiating and whether those talks were getting anywhere.

McConnell's office said Obama's phone call was the first from a Democrat on the fiscal cliff since Thanksgiving.

Last Friday, Obama and Reid voiced support for a proposal that would extend current rates to individuals earning up to $200,000 and families earning up to $250,000. Taxpayers above those thresholds would see their top rates rise. The proposal would have included extended aid to unemployed workers and some surgical cuts to avoid steeper and broader spending cuts.

For the Senate to act, it would require a commitment from McConnell not to demand a 60-vote margin to consider the legislation on the Senate floor. McConnell's office says it's too early to make such an assessment because Democrats have not put forward a specific plan and have been unclear on whether extended benefits for the unemployed would be paid for with cuts in other programs or on how it would deal with an expiring estate tax, among other issues.

The questions hanging over Washington Thursday centered on whether Reid would offer a specific piece of legislation, whether McConnell would allow it to proceed to a vote on the Senate floor and, if the Senate bill passed, whether Boehner would schedule a House vote on it. All those issues remained unresolved, and success before the end of the year appeared a long shot at best.

Reid said the GOP-controlled House easily could have passed a White House-approved plan with a majority of Democratic votes and a few dozen Republican votes. But House leaders generally avoid such tactics, because they might alienate the Republican caucus and jeopardize the speaker's job.

The House has passed a Republican plan to avert the fiscal cliff, and the Senate has passed a Democratic version. Their deficit-reduction projections differ by hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years.

Adding to the mix of developments pushing toward a "fiscal cliff," Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Wednesday informed Congress that the government was on track to hit its borrowing limit on Monday and said he would take "extraordinary measures as authorized by law" to postpone a government default.

Still, Geithner added, uncertainty about the outcome of negotiations over taxes and spending made it difficult to determine how much time those measures would buy.

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21 Comments

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James

they better keep their hands off my medicare and social security benifits. Without them I would go bankrupt

December 31 2012 at 10:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gmydogbud

They should not touch Social Security or Medicare. They are the people who took our money out of OUR Social Security Fund and replaced it with I.O.U.'S.. Thanks to them, China Owns the U.S.A.. We Borrow Trillions and then GIFT - China With Millions of Dollars. Washington has enough money to GIVE - HUNDREDS - OF - BILLIONS, to Countries & People Who Want Us - DEAD! They not only have enough money for ILLEGAL - ALIENS & THEIR - ANCHOR - BABIES - & - FOR - THEIR - FREE - EDUCATION - BUT - THEY- NOT - ONLY - ALLOW - BUT - ENCOURAGE - ILLEGAL - ALIENS - TO - COME - TO - THIS - COUNTRY - !! They are the people who not only allowed but pushed our jobs to go offshore by passing N.A.F.T.A. ! Where did these highly educated, ivy league types, think their TAX - BASE - would come from. Why haven't they taken from their Retirement Accounts, the way THEY - TOOK - OUR - MONEY - FROM - OUR - SOCIAL - SECURITY - FUND? L.B.J., Told Us That Therre Was SO - MUCH - MONEY - IN - OUR - SOCIAL - SECURIT - FUND, THAT - IT - COULD - NEVER - BE - DEPLETED! DID - HE - LIE - ? THEY - ARE - THE - PEOPLE - WHO - PASSED - "OBAMA - CARE" - WITHOUT - READING - IT - !!! President Obama - TOOK - OVER - SEVEN - HUNDRED - BILLION - DOLLARS - FROM - MEDICARE - TO - HELP - HIS - "OBAMA - CARE" - WHY - SHOULD - WE - NOW - BE - PUNISHED - FOR - WHAT - THEY - HAVE - DONE? Where is the FAIRNESS they are always talking about, when it comes to American Citizens??????

December 31 2012 at 11:38 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
rgmac12

Seems like there is some progress .. since the Leader of the Dem's has steeped out .. I wonder if it has to do with his arrogance presnetation .. or more likely .. his lack of knowledge onthe details. Seems like someone else is always doing his job

December 31 2012 at 10:19 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
frank1946

Harry and Obama finally can Slap the GOP !

Who cares about the Debt Cliff ?

All or Nothing Vote. My Way or the HIghway !

December 28 2012 at 11:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to frank1946's comment
cpo1514

Obama spanking his monkey for four years. Still using Bush #43 budget. Time for the Organix=zer ro Man-Up... NOt likely.

December 29 2012 at 8:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
racarano

OBAMA DOES'T WANT TO STOP SPENDING .....................THATS THE HANG UP .

December 28 2012 at 1:59 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
rgmac12

2 mullion lose their extended unemployment benefits ...... I look at that as positive cash flow and debt reduction. I hope the Repub's add it their pile of contributions..... sort of similar to what the Demo's have added to their's

December 28 2012 at 10:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cpo1514

Barry wants to jump.

December 28 2012 at 8:56 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
krzyston

One small benefir of going over the cliff is that it may WAKE people up to how much the current scope of governemner is costing everyone. alexkrzyston.wordpress.com

December 27 2012 at 7:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gmydogbud

Since Harry is so concerned about the Fiscal Cliff, he, Nancy and the rest of those in the Congress, should give half of their money to the government. Heard that Harry is worth over ONE - HUNDRED - MILLION - DOLLARS ! If he cared for his country at all he would give Half of That To His Country. Nancy is a Multi-millionaire - How about Half of What She Has. Both Democrats & Republicans in Congress Should Be Happy To Give Half Of Their Money To Their Fellow Citizens.

December 27 2012 at 5:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to gmydogbud's comment
mrspelosi

Well darling I do not know if I want to give up any of my money. Perhaps we could raise taxes on others and we will use their money ot fund the government dear.

December 27 2012 at 8:40 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
cpo1514

Harry and Nancy need to be on the Obama Doesnt Care medical plan and the same Social Security plan as the citizens! Barry... needs to be card holder #1 of his namesake fiasco. FDR was #1 card holder to SS.

December 28 2012 at 8:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
nofreepass4kayla

AOL Technical Difficulties!

December 27 2012 at 2:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply