WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama returned to the White House on Thursday from a vacation shortened by government gridlock while Democrats and Republicans snarled across a partisan divide and showed no sign of compromise to avoid year-end tax increases and spending cuts.
Adding to the woes confronting the middle class was a pending spike of $2-per-gallon or more in milk prices if lawmakers failed to pass farm legislation by year's end.
White House aides disputed reports that Obama was sending lawmakers a scaled-down plan to avoid the fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts. They gave no indication he would invite congressional leaders to a White House meeting either late Thursday or possibly on Friday.
Top Senate leaders said they remain ready to seek a last-minute agreement. But a little more than four days from the deadline, there was no legislation pending in either the House or the Senate to prevent the tax hikes and spending cuts that economists say could send the economy into a recession.
Far from conciliatory, the rhetoric was confrontational and at times unusually personal.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused House Speaker John Boehner of running a dictatorship, citing his refusal to call a vote on legislation to keep taxes steady for most while letting them rise at upper incomes. The bill would pass overwhelmingly, Reid predicted, and said the Ohio Republican won't change his mind because he fears it might cost him re-election as speaker when the new Congress convenes next week.
Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than keeping the nation on a firm financial footing, he said in remarks on the Senate floor.
A few hours later, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell expressed frustration and blamed the standoff on Obama and the Democrats. Republicans have bent over backwards. We stepped way, way out of our comfort zone, he said, referring to GOP offers to accept higher tax rates on some taxpayers.