President Obama is making an 11th-hour effort to re-start budget talks and avoid looming austerity measures that could endanger the economy.
Obama is convening bipartisan congressional leaders Friday at the White House in a final bid to end the stalemate. Unless the president and the House and Senate find a way out, there will be a series of tax hikes and deep spending cuts, dubbed the "fiscal cliff," starting on January 1. Obviously, that leaves only four days to make a deal, but talks have stalled and the level of partisan bitterness is rising.
The reality is that the president might be the only leader in Washington with the public support to forge a compromise. Obama is riding a wave of favorable job approval ratings since his strong re-election victory last month. The latest Gallup tracking poll finds that 54 percent of Americans support Obama's handling of the fiscal crisis and only 26 percent approve of how House Speaker John Boehner, who leads House Republicans, is handling it.
But the obstacles to compromise are enormous. Obama and the Democrats favor maintaining current lower tax rates on the middle class but raising taxes on the wealthy, combined with some spending cuts. The Republicans don't want any tax hikes at all and prefer deep spending cuts to reduce the soaring deficit.
Leaders of the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate say their chambers have passed separate legislation to avoid the fiscal cliff. The problem is that the House measure isn't acceptable to the Senate and the Senate bill is unacceptable to the House.
Obama cut short his annual vacation in Hawaii, where he was raised, and returned to Washington Thursday in an attempt to make a deal. The Senate is back in session after a holiday break and the House is scheduled to reconvene Sunday.
The congressional leaders scheduled to attend Friday's session at the White House are Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.