By Daniel Strauss - 12/28/12 01:36 PM EST
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday he's becoming more "optimistic" that a "fiscal cliff" deal can be reached.
Schumer pointed to several encouraging signs for his renewed optimism, most notably Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) talks with the White House and Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) decision to return to the talks.
President Obama on Friday will meet with McConnell, Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at the White House.
"One [reason] is that Leader McConnell is actively engaged. You can't pass anything in the Senate without Democratic and Republican votes because of the 60-vote barrier, we only have 53. And for the first time Leader McConnell is speaking to the president," Schumer said.
"The second reason for optimism is Boehner is back at the table, because you can't pass something just through the Senate," Schumer said. "The fact that he's come back, that the four of them are at the table, means to me that we could come up with some kind of agreement that would avoid the main parts of fiscal cliff, particularly taxes going up on middle-class people. So I am hopeful, and it can be a balanced package."
Congress is running out of time to reach a deal before tax rates are set to rise on millions of U.S. households on Jan. 1. The ticking clock contributed to a gloominess in Washington that the two sides will not reach a deal in time.
But Schumer was joined in sounding an optimistic note by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the third-ranking Republican in the Senate.
"I think that it's encouraging that people are talking, Willie," Thune said to NBC's Willie Geist on the "Today Show." "There's an agreement out there than can be reached."
In a separate interview on Friday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said there are new "signs of flexibility" on a deal.
The comments by Schumer, Thune and Van Hollen come a day after Republican leaders in the House announced the chamber would come back into session Sunday night, allowing the possibility for lawmakers to pass a deal just before the December deadline.