President Obama and congressional leaders were preparing to make a last-ditchÂ try for a deal — or at least a plan — to avert the imminent fiscal crisis,Â with a high-stakes meeting scheduled at the White House for Friday afternoonÂ just days before the deadline for action.
The meeting with Obama and the top four leaders on the Hill is their firstÂ since Nov. 16. The president has been pressing all sides to come together on aÂ scaled-down package that can at least shield most Americans from a tax hikeÂ beginning next week.
But hope was fading for any agreement or legislation before Jan. 1, asÂ accusations began to fly about who was to blame for a looming $500 billion taxÂ increase .
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on the floor Thursday that “it looksÂ like” the nation is going to miss the deadline.
“John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than aboutÂ keeping the nation on firm financial footing,” Reid said. “He’s waiting untilÂ Jan. 3 to get re-elected as speaker before he gets serious with negotiationsÂ because he has so many people … that won’t follow what he wants.”
Boehner’s office quickly shot back: “Senator Reid should talk less andÂ legislate more. The House has already passed legislation to avoid the entireÂ fiscal cliff. Senate Democrats have not,” Boehner spokesman Brendan BuckÂ said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor that his party hasÂ “bent over backwards.”
“We stepped way, way out of our comfort zone,” he said. We wanted anÂ agreement, but we had no takers. The phone never rang. So here we are five daysÂ from the new year and we might finally start talking.”
But he also warned, “Republicans aren’t about to write a blank check forÂ anything the Senate Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves on theÂ edge of the cliff.”
Separately, Vice President Biden said he was neither optimistic norÂ pessimistic about a deal. “You tell me what will attract Republican votes and IÂ will tell you” what sort of plan might work, he said.
Each side continues to call on the other to act.
Reid, on the floor, urged the House to pass a Senate bill that would extend current tax rates for most families but let them rise on top earners. Reid, who wants Boehner to let the bill pass with mostly Democratic votes, claimed the chamber was “being operated with a dictatorship of the speaker.”
Boehner put the onus on the Senate, referring to two Republican-passed billsÂ in his chamber — one extending current tax rates for everyone; the otherÂ rearranging the $110 billion in spending cuts set to hit next year.
Buck said late Thursday that Boehner will attend the White House meeting,Â “where he will continue to stress that the House has already passed legislationÂ to avert the entire fiscal cliff and now the Senate must act.”
McConnell’s aides, meanwhile, claimed they expected some sort of plan toÂ emerge from the Democratic side.
After Obama spoke separately with all four congressional leaders WednesdayÂ before leaving Hawaii, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said: “The leader isÂ happy to review what the president has in mind, but to date, the Senate DemocratÂ majority has not put forward a plan. When they do, members on both sides of theÂ aisle will review the legislation and make decisions on how best toÂ proceed.”
With each side refusing to make the first move, it may be incumbent uponÂ Obama to give a negotiated bill one last try, presuming he can get all theÂ stakeholders in the same room. Also unclear is what role McConnell, who hasÂ stayed largely quiet throughout this debate, may play in pushing for anÂ 11th-hour deal.
A new Gallup poll, though, showed Americans are growing increasinglyÂ pessimistic about the chances for an agreement over the next few days.Â Considering the time it takes to write and pass a bill of this magnitude, theÂ best route for averting tax hikes may be to pass a short-term extension ofÂ current rates with the goal of approving a larger package early nextÂ year.
Lawmakers have not even agreed to that, though. Without a deal, more thanÂ $500 billion in tax hikes are scheduled to go into effect. This includesÂ increases in income tax rates, investment tax rates, the estate tax, the payrollÂ tax and other provisions. Budget cuts to the Pentagon and other federal agenciesÂ threaten to hit government contractors. All together, a prolonged failure toÂ avert these policies could cause another recession, economists warn.
Source: Fox News