Fiscal talks continue in Senate with agreement far from certain

Congressional leaders and senior aides huddled on Saturday in a last-minute attempt to iron out a resolution in the so-called "fiscal cliff" crisis. But a deal -- at least for the time being -- seemed far from certain.

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The rare weekend negotiations come on the heels of a meeting held at the White House on Friday as part of a last-ditch effort to resolve the looming fiscal crisis. If lawmakers do not come to an agreement in the next few days, taxpayers in all income brackets would see an increase in taxes and a slew of spending cuts would kick in.

A Senate aide with knowledge of the talks said late Saturday afternoon there is "no major progress."


One sticking point in the talks continues to be on taxes, according to aides. President Obama has reiterated that tax cuts should extend to the middle class, asking top earners to pay more in taxes. But Republicans have insisted that tax cuts be extended for all taxpayers.

Obama, who spent the day monitoring the talks from the White House, has indicated that he would support legislation that would raise taxes on those who earn more than $400,000. That threshold has been the subject of some discussions with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). 

But differences on other issues, including spending cuts, linger.

The Senate remained out of session on Saturday while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and McConnell, along with their senior aides, sought to strike a deal. McConnell was at the Capitol on Saturday, but Reid was not.

"Discussions are underway, but I wouldn't expect any news [or] announcements before the members are briefed," said one top Republican Senate aide.


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McConnell spent seven hours in his office on Saturday, according to reports. "We've been trading paper all day and talks continue into the evening," he told reporters on his way out of the Capitol. "We'll let you know as soon as we have some news to make."

Reid has scheduled a Democratic caucus meeting for Sunday afternoon to give his colleagues a chance to weigh in on a potential deal.

McConnell has said he would do the same.

If a deal isn't struck with McConnell, Democrats are likely to introduce a bill extending the Bush-era tax rates for income up to $250,000 a year. That legislation would also extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans.

"I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities – as long as these leaders allow it to come to a vote," Obama said in his weekly address. "If they still want to vote no, and let this tax hike hit the middle class, that’s their prerogative – but they should let everyone vote. That’s the way this is supposed to work."

Reports said Reid would schedule such a vote on Monday if talks to reach a deal with Republicans falter.

Senate Democratic aides seem confident that the legislation would pass the Senate, with Democrats supporting the bill with the help of some Republicans.

If the Senate passes the legislation, it would then force the House to take up the bill on the eve of the looming deadline.

The Washington Post reported that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) met with his senior aides on Saturday, but has remained on the sidelines of Senate negotiations. Boehner told the president on Friday that he wants the Senate to act first and pass a tax measure for the House to consider.

--Alexander Bolton contributed to this report. 

--This report was originally published at 3:47 p.m. and last updated on Dec. 30 at 6:42 a.m.

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