WASHINGTON Senate leaders groped for a last-minute compromise Saturday to avoid middle-class tax increases and possibly prevent deep spending cuts at the dawn of the new year as President Barack Obama warned that failure could mean a "self-inflicted wound to the economy."
Obama chastised lawmakers in his weekly radio and Internet address for waiting until the last minute to try and avoid a "fiscal cliff," yet said there was still time for an agreement. "We cannot let Washington politics get in the way of America's progress," he said as the hurry-up negotiations unfolded.
Senate Republicans said they were ready to compromise. "Divided government is a good time to solve hard problems_and in the next few days, leaders in Washington have an important responsibility to work together and do just that," said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, delivering his party's weekly address.
Even so, there was no guarantee of success.
In a blunt challenge to Republicans, Obama said that barring a bipartisan agreement, he expected both houses to vote on his own proposal to block tax increases on all but the wealthy and simultaneously preserve expiring unemployment benefits.
Political calculations mattered as much as deep-seated differences over the issues, as divided government struggled with its first big challenge since the November elections.
Speaker John Boehner remained at arms-length, juggling a desire to avoid the fiscal cliff with his goal of winning another new term as speaker when a new Congress convenes next Thursday. Any compromise legislation is certain to include higher tax rates on the wealthy, and the House GOP rank and file rejected the idea when Boehner presented it as part of a final attempt to strike a more sweeping agreement with Obama.