The Senate could be the next dead zone for the budget talks. The latest evidence indicates that prospects for a timely compromise are fading, and the blame game has started. Just as important, even if the Democratic majority in the Senate manages to cobble together a budget deal, it's far from clear whether President Obama or a majority of Republicans in the House would accept it.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said, "It's the first time that I feel it's more likely we'll go over the cliff than not." He was referring to the deep spending cuts and higher taxes scheduled to go into effect starting January 1—known as the "fiscal cliff"—unless a compromise is found to avoid it. "If we allow that to happen, it will be the most colossal consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history, because of the impact it'll have on almost every American," Lieberman told CNN.
Last Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, acknowledged failure to muster enough votes for his version of a bill to avoid the fiscal cliff. Boehner made a concession by agreeing to allow tax increases on millionaires, but most of his conservative GOP colleagues wouldn't go along and he declined to allow the measure to come up for a vote.
Congress is expected to end its holiday break and return to Washington Thursday. President Obama is expected to cut short his Hawaii vacation and return to the White House at about the same time.
On Friday, Obama said he might settle for a limited bill to extend the current tax cuts for most Americans, but not millionaires, and delay the massive spending cuts temporarily.
But Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, predicted there would be no agreement in time to avoid the "fiscal cliff." Blaming President Obama, Barrasso told Fox News, "I believe the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes. He senses a victory at the bottom of the cliff."
Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said each member of Congress has a responsibility to "provide leadership," not just President Obama. "What is happening is the same old tired blame game," Conrad told Fox News.
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.