Pessimism grows as ‘fiscal cliff’ nears

Lawmakers trade barbs in recess

There was more finger-pointing and jostling Sunday over how to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” but there was also a growing sense of pessimism over whether a deal can be reached before the year-end deadline.

After the collapse last week of the House compromise known as “Plan B,” which would have raised taxes on those with incomes exceeding $1 million, and President Obama’s subsequent proposal to delay action on spending cuts, “It’s the first time that I feel it’s more likely we’ll go over the cliff than not,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent.

Mr. Lieberman, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the result would be “the most consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history, because of the impact it’ll have on almost every American.”

Rep. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, maintained that Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, need to make the next move.

“The onus right now is on Sen. Reid and the president to come up with a solution, make it a piece of legislation, pass it through the Senate, present it to the House and let’s get back to the bargaining table,” said Mr. Scott on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “All year long we’ve seen from the leadership in the House at least a clear line of what we’re willing to do. What we haven’t seen come out of the Senate yet is a single piece of legislation that addresses the crisis.”

Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said he doubted a compromise was possible, accusing the president on “Fox News Sunday” of deliberately dragging his heels on budget negotiations in order to score political points.

“When I listen to the president, I think the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes,” Mr. Barrasso said. “I think he sees a political victory at the bottom of the cliff. He gets all these additional tax revenue for new programs. He gets to cut the military, which Democrats have been calling for for years, and he gets to blame Republicans for it.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, took a swipe at House Speaker John A. Boehner for calling a holiday recess, saying that “the main thing that needs to happen here is that Speaker Boehner and the House of Representatives have to come back to Washington.”

“I hope if anyone sees these representatives from the House in line shopping or getting their Christmas turkey, they wish them a Merry Christmas, they’re civil, and then say, ‘Go back to the table, not your own table, the table in Washington,’” said Ms. Klobuchar on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

The House and Senate are both in recess until Thursday.

Mr. Obama, who arrived Saturday in his native Hawaii for the holidays, is expected to return to the White House next week.

One idea for a compromise came from Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, who proposed splitting the difference between Mr. Boehner’s “Plan B” and Mr. Obama’s latest offer for tax hikes on those earning more than $250,000, extended unemployment benefits, and delayed spending cuts.

“I would hope we’d have one last attempt here to do what everyone knows needs to be done, which is the larger plan that really does stabilize the debt, and get us moving in the right direction,” Mr. Conrad said. “We don’t slam on the brakes here in a way that puts us back into recession.”

Could Republicans support Mr. Obama’s budget plan? Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, flatly rejected it on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The president’s been a pathetic fiscal leader. He’s produced three budgets and can’t get one vote for any of his budgets,” Mr. Graham said. “Here’s what I would vote for: I would vote for revenues, including tax-rate hikes, even though I don’t like them, to save the country from becoming Greece, but I’m not going to set aside the $1.2 trillion in cuts.”

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