WASHINGTON The top Senate negotiators on the effort to prevent the government from going over the “fiscal cliff” offered a pessimistic assessment Sunday, barely 24 hours before a deadline to avert tax hikes on virtually every American worker. But negotiations continued, with Vice President Joe Biden taking on a new role.
With the two sides differing on the income threshold for higher tax rates and how to deal with inheritance taxes, among other issues, talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell appeared to have broken down. A McConnell spokesman said the Kentucky Republican reached out to Biden, a longtime friend, in hopes of breaking the impasse.
Republicans withdrew a long-discussed proposal to slow future cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients as part of a compromise to avoid the cliff. Democrats said that proposal had put a damper on the talks, and Republican senators emerging from a closed-door GOP meeting said it is no longer part of the equation.
Aides said the two sides remained at odds over the income threshold for higher tax rates, tax levels on large estates and whether Democratic demands for new money to prevent a cut in Medicare payments to doctors and renew jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed should be financed with cuts elsewhere in the budget. The aides demanded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
At stake are sweeping tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect at the turn of the year. Taken together, they’ve been dubbed the fiscal cliff, and economists warn the one-two punch — which leaders in both parties have said they want to avoid — could send the still-fragile economy back into recession.
Reid said he’s been in frequent contact with President Barack Obama, who in a televised interview blamed Republicans for putting the nation’s shaky economy at risk.