- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2012

The latest offer from Republicans was to let rates rise on individuals making more than $450,000 and families making more than $550,000, according to Democrats, who countered with rates above the $360,000 and $450,000 levels.

Regardless of what happens with marginal rates, all taxpayers are likely to see at least some tax increases with the expiration of the 2 percentage-point payroll-tax holiday, which was worth about $1,000 to the average taxpayer last year.

It was also unclear Sunday whether any final deal would cancel the other part of the cliff: the $110 billion in automatic spending cuts looming Wednesday.

Republicans said Democrats wanted to use the money from higher tax rates to cancel the cuts and to cover new unemployment-benefit spending, which would mean the deficit wouldn’t go down at all and defeat the purpose of a deal on taxes.

“Every Reid-Obama proposal this weekend raises taxes only to usher in more spending. They don’t cut deficit and debt by one penny,” said Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican.

But Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the chamber, said the deficit could be reduced if Republicans would agree to a higher estate tax than Republicans is seeking.

“This is supposed to be a fiscally conscious group trying to reduce the deficit, and now they want to reward 6,000 of the wealthiest families in America with an additional annual benefit of $1 million?”

He also defended the new unemployment-benefit spending, arguing that it was needed stimulus at a time when the economy is still sputtering.

“The president is saying you’ve got to protect these 2 million people who are unemployed. Is that a stimulus? You bet it is,” he told reporters after emerging from an hours-long meeting with fellow Democrats.

Even as leaders butted heads, some senators said they were preparing their own workarounds.

“I will tell you that I’ve talked with numerous Democrats and Republicans on the floor, and there are a lot of subgroups who are eager to tackle this issue and try to come up with a solution if the negotiations break down at the leaders’ level,” said Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican.

She jokingly called it the “common-sense caucus.”

• David Sherfinski and Dave Boyer contributed to this article.