As Fiscal Cliff Nears, All Eyes Turn to the Senate
(WASHINGTON) -- A fiscal-cliff fix went nowhere in the House. Now, the Senate will take its turn.
With just three days before their end-of-the-year deadline, Congress and the White House are hurtling toward the so-called "fiscal cliff." If no deal is struck by Monday night, taxes will automatically go up on both high earners and the middle class, and across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect.
Both sides still say there's no concrete plan on the table.
Congressional leaders of both parties met at the White House on Friday, a move that raised hopes for a fiscal cliff deal to beat the deadline. Participants described that meeting as productive, even if it didn't produce anything that looks like a deal.
"It was constructive," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said of the meeting with President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"I would say the president led in that direction of saying, 'the speaker says we need to hear from the Senate, so let's have the Senate put something together, and see where that takes us,'" Pelosi said.
Taking the president's direction, the Senate will now attempt to act on the fiscal cliff, in the hopes of passing a deal that can also pass the House by Monday night. Reid, D-Nev., and his GOP counterpart McConnell of Kentucky, are working with their staffs to finalize a deal over the weekend.
Congress will return to session Sunday, and the Senate leaders may present a deal to their caucuses -- but nothing concrete exists, as of yet.
Last week, fiscal-cliff progress stalled in the House as Boehner pulled his "Plan B" proposal, which would have cut spending and raised taxes on incomes over $1 million. Boehner failed to garner enough support for his plan and never put it to a vote on the House floor.
Now, it appears that if the fiscal cliff is to be averted, a fix will originate in the Senate, where lawmakers are traditionally more open to compromise than in the House -- but where legislation can take days to move forward if only one member objects.
Prospects for a deal could be better in the upper chamber, as Senate Republicans are seen as less conservative than their House counterparts, and where even progressive Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have signaled willingness to give on their fiscal-cliff demands.
Even so, the Senate has been the epicenter of partisan gridlock for much of Obama's first White House term, as Republicans have used procedural rules to require 60 votes for major bills to move to the president's desk.
"We are engaged in discussions, the majority leader, myself and the White House, in the hopes that we can come forward as early as Sunday and have a recommendation that I can make to my conference and the majority leader can make to his conference," McConnell said of Friday's White House meeting.
McConnell said that he is "hopeful and optimistic" and they'll be "working hard" over the next 24 hours "to see if we can get there."
"The Republican leader and I and our staffs are working to see what we can come up with. We shouldn't take a long time to do that," Reid said on Friday.
"We are out of time. We've got to do it now. That's why I said the next 24 hours will be very important," the majority leader told reporters.
Talks are ongoing, a senior GOP aide told ABC News, while cautioning that it is unlikely that details of a deal will emerge before McConnell and Reid brief their caucuses Sunday afternoon.
If the Senate talks fail, Obama has instructed Reid to bring the Democratic proposal to the floor as a backup. That plan would raise taxes on couples making more than $250,000.
In his weekly address, Obama again pressed for swift action and expressed cautious optimism.
"Sens. Reid and McConnell are discussing a potential agreement where we can get a bipartisan bill out of the Senate and over to the House in a timely fashion so that we meet the Dec. 31 deadline," Obama said. "But given how things have been working in this town we always have to wait and see to see whether it actually happens."
In the weekly GOP response, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said the cliff could be avoided while calling for the Senate to pass a House-approved bill that would prevent any taxes from going up--a plan rejected by Democrats and campaigned against by Obama during the presidential race.
"Fortunately, going over the fiscal cliff is avoidable. There's not much time, but there is still time to act," Blunt said. "Instead of working across the aisle and considering the House-passed plan to protect taxpayers, Senate Democrats have spent months drawing partisan lines in the sand."
With those lines firmly drawn, Congress appears closer than ever to going over the cliff.
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