President Obama will meet with Congressional leaders on Friday, and House Republicans summoned lawmakers back for a Sunday session, in a last-ditch effort to avert a fiscal crisis brought on by automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to hit next week.
Republicans expressed a flicker of hope Thursday that a deal could still be reached to at least avert most of the tax increases on Jan. 1, to prevent a sudden cut in payments to medical providers treating Medicare patients and to extend expiring unemployment benefits. But both parties' leaders said time is running out.
"Here we are, five days from the New Year, and we might finally start talking," said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader.The overriding emotion Thursday, as senators convened for a rare session between Christmas and New Year's Day, appeared to be embarrassment. The continuing impasse "demonstrates a tremendous lack of courage here in Washington to address the issues that need to be addressed — at every level," said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee.
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Lawmakers and aides from both parties cautioned that the burst of activity could be more about making sure the other side gets the blame than any real search for a resolution before the Jan. 1 deadline. Under Senate rules, no deal could run the gantlet of procedural hurdles in time for a final vote before the deadline without all the senators agreeing not to slow progress.
"I have to be very honest," Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said Thursday. "I don't know timewise how it can happen now."
White House officials continued to put the onus on Republicans to clear a procedural path to a quick vote on a negotiated deal.
"The only way America goes over the cliff is if the Republican leaders in the House and the Senate decide to push us by blocking passage of bills to extend tax cuts or the middle class," said the White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer. "It's a question of their willingness to put country before party."
Republicans said there was nothing preventing Mr. Reid from putting formal legislation on the Senate floor, and to date, no such bill has been written.