The Congressional Budget Office has said that if both of those actions happen, they will plunge the country into a short, sharp recession, but the result would also dramatically lower the deficit and the economy would recover to come back even stronger in the long run.
But all sides in Congress say they are intent on stopping the cuts and tax increases anyway, fearing that immediate economic damage.
Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama had both made concessions in their negotiations.
The president has agreed to raise his threshold for tax-rate increases to those making $400,000 or more — up from the $250,000 level he had campaigned on. He also has agreed to change the measure of inflation used to calculate benefits such as Social Security, which would save tens of billions of dollars over the next decade.
For his part, Mr. Boehner had said he would accept tax increases on those making more than $1 million, but he wants deeper spending cuts. He had also rejected Mr. Obama’s call for another round of stimulus spending to be part of a deal.
Democrats say the two sides are close, but Republicans say they’ve seen no real movement from the White House, and that’s why they went to their Plan B — the combination of their tax plan and spending cuts.
The first part of Plan B succeeded. Mr. Boehner had his chamber pass a Republican plan to avert the $110 billion in defense- and domestic-spending reductions by substituting cuts to Mr. Obama’s health care law. It passed 215-209.
If Mr. Boehner had won the tax-increase vote it would have created an opening for him with Mr. Obama. Most of his conservatives would have gone on record supporting a tax-rate increase. Once they had conceded that principle, he could have argued it’s just a matter of which dollar threshold to use.
But with conservative interest groups providing pressure, Mr. Boehner and his team couldn’t round up the votes — despite support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business and Americans for Tax Reform, which administers an influential no-new-taxes pledge.
With less than two weeks before the fiscal cliff, even the schedule has become contentious.
Early Thursday, Mr. Reid said he’d send senators home for Christmas later Thursday, and that he won’t bring them back until Dec. 27. Mr. Cantor had said he’d keep House lawmakers here to try to work on a deal.
Instead, it was the House that fled town early and senators who stuck around, planning votes Friday on both a defense-policy bill and an emergency spending bill for Hurricane Sandy relief.