Fiscal deal stalls as clock ticks to deadline
By Thomas Ferraro and Rachelle Younglai
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Efforts to prevent the economy from tumbling over a "fiscal cliff" stalled on Sunday as Democrats and Republicans remained at loggerheads over a deal that would prevent taxes for all Americans from rising on New Year's Day.
One hour before they had hoped to present a plan, Democratic and Republican Senate leaders said they were still unable to reach a compromise that would stop the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that could push the U.S. economy back into recession.
"There are still serious differences between the two sides," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.
Progress still appeared possible after the two sides narrowed their differences on tax increases and Republicans indicated they would withdraw a contentious proposal to slow the growth of Social Security retirement benefits.
Failure to secure a deal would deliver a heavy blow to the U.S. economy just as it is showing signs of a quicker recovery. Planned tax increases and spending cuts would suck $600 billion out of the economy and again force up unemployment, which had shown signs of improving.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell talked several times to Vice President Joe Biden by phone in the hope of breaking the standstill. "I'm willing to get this done, but I need a dance partner," McConnell said.
Any agreement needs to be rushed through both chambers of Congress before midnight on Monday. But, even if the two sides reach a deal, procedural barriers in the Senate and the House of Representatives make quick action difficult.
Buoyed by his re-election in November, President Barack Obama has insisted that any deal must include a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans, who have seen their earnings rise steadily over the past decade at a time when income has stalled for the less affluent. Continued...