President Obama and congressional leaders were preparing to make a last-ditch  try for a deal — or at least a plan — to avert the imminent fiscal crisis,  with a high-stakes meeting scheduled at the White House for Friday afternoon  just days before the deadline for action.

The meeting with Obama and the top four leaders on the Hill is their first  since Nov. 16. The president has been pressing all sides to come together on a  scaled-down package that can at least shield most Americans from a tax hike  beginning next week.

But hope was fading for any agreement or legislation before Jan. 1, as  accusations began to fly about who was to blame for a looming $500 billion tax  increase .

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on the floor Thursday that “it looks  like” the nation is going to miss the deadline.

Reid put all the blame on House Speaker John Boehner, likening him to a  dictator and claiming he was putting his speakership before the good of the  country.

“John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than about  keeping the nation on firm financial footing,” Reid said. “He’s waiting until  Jan. 3 to get re-elected as speaker before he gets serious with negotiations  because he has so many people … that won’t follow what he wants.”

Boehner’s office quickly shot back: “Senator Reid should talk less and  legislate more. The House has already passed legislation to avoid the entire  fiscal cliff. Senate Democrats have not,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck  said.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor that his party has  “bent over backwards.”

“We stepped way, way out of our comfort zone,” he said. We wanted an  agreement, but we had no takers. The phone never rang. So here we are five days  from the new year and we might finally start talking.”

But he also warned, “Republicans aren’t about to write a blank check for  anything the Senate Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves on the  edge of the cliff.”

Separately, Vice President Biden said he was neither optimistic nor  pessimistic about a deal. “You tell me what will attract Republican votes and I  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 bills  in his chamber — one extending current tax rates for everyone; the other  rearranging the $110 billion in spending cuts set to hit next year.

Buck said late Thursday that Boehner will attend the White House meeting,  “where he will continue to stress that the House has already passed legislation  to avert the entire fiscal cliff and now the Senate must act.”

McConnell’s aides, meanwhile, claimed they expected some sort of plan to  emerge from the Democratic side.

After Obama spoke separately with all four congressional leaders Wednesday  before leaving Hawaii, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said: “The leader is  happy to review what the president has in mind, but to date, the Senate Democrat  majority has not put forward a plan. When they do, members on both sides of the  aisle will review the legislation and make decisions on how best to  proceed.”

With each side refusing to make the first move, it may be incumbent upon  Obama to give a negotiated bill one last try, presuming he can get all the  stakeholders in the same room. Also unclear is what role McConnell, who has  stayed largely quiet throughout this debate, may play in pushing for an  11th-hour deal.

A new Gallup poll, though, showed Americans are growing increasingly  pessimistic about the chances for an agreement over the next few days.  Considering the time it takes to write and pass a bill of this magnitude, the  best route for averting tax hikes may be to pass a short-term extension of  current rates with the goal of approving a larger package early next  year.

Lawmakers have not even agreed to that, though. Without a deal, more than  $500 billion in tax hikes are scheduled to go into effect. This includes  increases in income tax rates, investment tax rates, the estate tax, the payroll  tax and other provisions. Budget cuts to the Pentagon and other federal agencies  threaten to hit government contractors. All together, a prolonged failure to  avert these policies could cause another recession, economists warn.

Source: Fox News


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