Congressional negotiators raced Saturday to write a compromise fiscal package that would limit the effect of tax increases due to take effect Jan. 1 while pushing many important decisions about the federal budget into the new year.
After a full day in which staffers sent papers back and forth, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky left the Capitol shortly before 7 p.m. Saturday, telling reporters the two sides continue to try and reach a deal to avert the fiscal cliff.
“We’ve been trading paper all day and talks continue,” McConnell said. “We’ll let you know as soon as we have some news to make.”
But the talks clearly were in a new, urgent phase, with leadership staff expected to remain in the Capitol as long as necessary “to get where they need to be,” according to one person familiar with the negotiations.
“This is real,” not just for show, the source said.
GOP aides said they don’t expect to have more to say until after lawmakers are briefed Sunday afternoon.
The White House, meanwhile, remained in contact with negotiators and the president was kept informed of the status of the talks.
After weeks spent trying to forge a comprehensive agreement that would settle the long-standing policy challenges under the fiscal cliff, political leaders narrowed their focus almost exclusively to the historically large tax increase that is set to become law when the clock strikes midnight on Monday. Hoping to beat that deadline, the House and Senate will be in session Sunday, when a deal could be presented to rank-and-file members and the following day when legislation could go to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature in the hours before taxes are set to shift.
If a deal is reached, the Senate could vote on it as early as Sunday.
After a flurry of activity in recent days, the outlines of a potential agreement have come into view. But assembling all the component parts of a package that can win the support of House Republicans and Senate Democrats presented big challenges in such a short time frame.
According to congressional aides, a compromise bill would raise taxes on high-income households, but not by as much as Democrats have wanted. It also would likely continue federal benefits to the long-term unemployed and prevent a reduction in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients. But it probably would not avert deep automatic cuts to military and nondefense discretionary programs, known as the sequester, or raise the federal debt ceiling. With spending unresolved and the government due to exceed its borrowing authority in the coming week, it’s certain the debate over government spending will consume the first few weeks or months of the next Congress.
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