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December 30, 2012

US Congress to Reconvene, Continue Fiscal Talks

by Kent Klein

The drama over the U.S. government’s so-called “fiscal cliff” enters its final day before the deadline on Monday, with no agreement between Democrats and Republicans.  Americans will face tax increases and deep government cuts on Tuesday if no agreement is passed and signed before then.

In a prayer at the opening of Sunday’s Senate session, Chaplain Barry Black asked God to help the two parties find a compromise. “Lord, show them the right thing to do, and give them the courage to do it.  And save us from self-inflicted wounds," he said.

By the end of the day’s session, the prayer was still unanswered.

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The top Senate Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, said the talks would move into the crucial final hours on Monday. “There is still significant distance between the two sides, but negotiations continue.  There is still time left to reach an agreement, and we intend to continue negotiations," he said.

Earlier, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked Vice President Joe Biden to enter the negotiations.

The top Senate Republican was frustrated that Reid had not made a counteroffer to his proposal from late Saturday, and said Democrats have shown a lack of urgency in the talks. “The sticking point appears to be a willingness, an interest, or frankly, the courage to close the deal.  I want everyone to know I am willing to get this done, but I need a dance partner," he said.

Biden and McConnell, former Senate colleagues, have negotiated previous agreements.

President Barack Obama expressed his frustration about the impasse in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” recorded Saturday.  The president blamed Republicans for the failure to forge a compromise.  “I think anybody, objectively, who has looked at this would say that we have put forward not only a sensible deal, but one that has the support of the majority of the American people, including close to half of Republicans," he said.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner retorted that it was the president, not House Republicans, who was unable to say yes to a deal.  In a written statement, Boehner said, “Americans elected President Obama to lead, not cast blame.”

If legislation to avert the “fiscal cliff” is not passed by Congress and signed by Mr. Obama by the end of Monday, almost every American would face a substantial tax increase.  Government programs, including defense, would suffer severe budget cuts, and unemployment benefits would be slashed.

Economists and officials from both parties agree that failure to reach an agreement would have a devastating effect on the U.S. economic recovery.