CAPITOL HILL —
With less than three weeks remaining until massive tax hikes and government spending cuts take effect unless Congress acts, Democrats and Republicans are blaming each other for failing to avert the so-called fiscal cliff.
The most powerful Republican politician in Washington, Speaker of the House John Boehner on Thursday made clear there has been little progress in his negotations with President Barack Obama on a budget and tax deal. He blamed the president for refusing to focus on the government spending cuts Republicans want.
"Unfortunately the White House is so unserious about cutting spending that it appears willing to slow-walk any agreement, and walk our economy right up to the fiscal cliff," he said.
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But the top Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi, blasted Boehner and the Republican leadership for leaving town Thursday, even though they only began work this week on Tuesday afternoon.
"Here we are 18 days from a possible fiscal cliff, hopefully not, 12 days until Christmas, and here we are once again, having a two-day work week in the Congress of the United States," she said.
[Boehner and President Obama held snother meeting on the issue at the White House later Thursday, but no progress was reported.]
Boehner blamed the president and Democrats for insisting that income taxes rise for the top 2 percent of earners in January. The White House wants to extend Bush-era tax cuts, which are set to expire January 1, for the rest of the country.
"He wants far more in tax hikes than in spending cuts, and instead of beginning to solve our debt problem, he wants new stimulus spending and the ability to raise the debt limit whenever he wants without any cuts or reforms. It is clear the president is just not serious about cutting spending," he said.
President Obama has repeatedly said that he just won re-election by saying the wealthiest Americans must pay their fair share in taxes. Republicans say they want a bigger budget solution that includes substantial cuts to government spending, especially on social welfare programs.
Economists and business leaders have warned that without a deal, higher taxes and sharp government spending cuts could send the U.S. back into recession.
Democratic leader Pelosi says that so far global markets have not reacted much to the uncertainty created by the standoff, but warns that there are only a few days left to get an agreement passed into law, and the markets may react as the deadline approaches.
"So far they trust that we would not be so stupid as to go over a cliff," she said.
House Republicans say Congress will not adjourn for the year until a solution is found to the fiscal impasse, and since there is no agreement in sight, lawmakers may be spending the holidays in Washington.