Barack Obama will meet congressional leaders on Friday as members of the House of Representatives prepare to return to Washington for a last-ditch attempt to head off the year-end fiscal cliff budget crisis.
Republican speaker John Boehner said the House will reconvene on Sunday evening, with less than 30 hours until the US reaches the fiscal cliff deadline. Boehner warned politicians they may be working through next Friday – after the 31 December deadline – to reach a deal to avert massive tax hikes and spending cuts.
The decision to call House members back came after fierce criticism from Democrat Senate leader Harry Reid, who earlier in the day had accused Republicans of “watching movies” while the budget crisis deepened.
Obama arrived in Washington on Thursday after cutting short his Christmas vacation to Hawaii, and the Senate also returned to work.
But even as talks appeared to be grinding back into motion, there were few signs that a breakthrough was imminent.
With five days to reach a political solution, Nevada senator Reid said the deadline would probably be missed. “It looks like that’s where we’re headed”, he said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “The American people are waiting for the ball to drop, but it’s not going to be a good drop.”
“I have to be honest: I don’t know, time-wise, how it can happen,” Reid added. “I would hope that the speaker and the Republican leader here in the Senate would come to us and say: here’s what we think will work.”
In a call with colleagues, Boehner told House Republicans that he was “not interested” in passing a fiscal cliff deal with “mostly Democrat votes,” according to Politico.
Reid’s gloomy acknowledgement of the failure of bipartisan negotiations triggered a sell-off on US stock markets. All the major US markets ended the day down. The Dow Jones closed down slightly for its fourth consecutive day of losses. The slip came as the latest survey of consumer confidence by the Conference Board showed a sharp drop to 65.1 in December, from a revised 71.5 in November that the thinktank blamed on uncertainty caused by the budget crisis.
On Wednesday, before boarding his plane, Obama had telephone discussions with Reid, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Boehner, and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi.
A spokesman for Boehner said in a statement: “Senator Reid should talk less and legislate more. The House has already passed legislation to avoid [going over] the entire fiscal cliff. Senate Democrats have not.”