CAPITOL HILL —
Republican leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives have announced that House members are leaving town for a long weekend break, with less than four weeks until some $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax hikes, known as the fiscal cliff, go into effect, unless Congress and the president come to an agreement.
Across the United States, the focus is on Washington and whether Democratic President Barack Obama and the Republican-controlled House will be able to reach an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff before the end of the year. Economists say that if tax cuts expire and major government spending cuts occur, it could send the U.S. economy into recession.
On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced that many House members will be leaving town until next Tuesday. Asked by a reporter why House members are leaving Washington with so much work left to do, Republican Speaker John Boehner said he wants President Obama to contact him for more negotiations.
"I'll be here, and I will be available at any moment to sit down with the president to get serious about solving this problem," he said.
Daniel Newhauser of the publication Roll Call, which covers Washington politics, says Republican leaders might be eager to get their members out of the media spotlight for a few days.
"Everybody recognizes that negotiations need to move behind closed doors at this point. There is no sense having every member of the House out there talking to the press and giving their own theories about what needs to be done, when everybody knows it is going to have to be Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama really striking this deal," he said.
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Congress already has a record low public approval rating, with fewer than 15 percent of voters satisfied with lawmakers' performance. And leaving town at a critical time, analysts say, will not likely help.
But Newhauser says House members leaving town a day early will not likely matter.
"I don't think that it is going to make all the difference in these negotiations when we are talking about tax rates expiring for every American, we are talking about the debt limit perhaps not being raised, if we can't find spending cuts to equal the debt limit raise," he said.
House Majority Leader Cantor also announced that House members will be staying in town longer this year than originally planned, through the Christmas holiday, if necessary, to try to reach an agreement on taxes and spending.
"Members are further reminded that the House will not adjourn the 112th Congress until a credible resolution to the fiscal cliff has been found," he said.
Republican congressional aides say that for now, negotiations are at a standstill and that there are no talks between the White House and House Republicans.