Lawmakers play waiting game with "fiscal cliff" deadline in sight

Mon Dec 24, 2012 1:54pm EST
 
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By Thomas Ferraro and Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With only a week left before a deadline for the United States to go over a "fiscal cliff," lawmakers played a waiting game on Monday in the hope that someone will produce a plan to avoid harsh budget cuts and higher taxes for most Americans from New Year's Day.

Though Republicans and Democrats have spent the better part of a year describing a plunge off the cliff as a looming catastrophe, the nation's capital showed no outward signs of worry, let alone impending calamity.

The White House has set up shop in Hawaii, where President Barack Obama is vacationing.

The Capitol was deserted and the Treasury Department - which would have to do a lot of last-minute number-crunching with or without a deal - was closed.

So were all other federal government offices, with Obama having followed a tradition of declaring the Monday before a Tuesday Christmas a holiday for government employees, notwithstanding the approaching fiscal cliff.

Expectations for some 11th-hour rescue focused largely on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, in part because he has performed the role of legislative wizard in previous stalemates.

But McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2014, was shunning the role this year, his spokesman saying that it was now up to the Democrats in the Senate to make the next move.

"We don't yet know what Senator Reid will bring to the floor. He is not negotiating with us and the president is out of town," said McConnell's spokesman, referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat. "So I just don't know what they're going to do over there," he said.   Continued...

 
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the fiscal cliff in the briefing room of the White House in Washington December 21, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque