WASHINGTON — The end game at hand, President Barack Obama and congressional leaders made a final stab at compromise Friday to prevent a toxic blend of middle-class tax increases and spending cuts from taking effect at the turn of the new year.
Success was far from guaranteed in an atmosphere of political mistrust — even on a slimmed-down deal that postponed hard decisions about spending cuts into 2013 — and pessimism vied with optimism as lawmakers grumbled about the likelihood of spending the new year holiday in the Capitol.
“The clock is ticking,” Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in remarks on the Senate floor as Obama and congressional leaders were meeting several blocks away at the White House. “My message to them is simple. We can do this. We can get this done, and we must,” added the Montana Democrat.
Congressional Democrats said Obama was ready with a revised offer to present.
But that drew a denial from a person familiar with the talks, who said the president would review his proposal from a week ago, when he urged lawmakers to preserve tax cuts for most while letting rates rise above incomes of $250,000 a year. At the same time, Obama said lawmakers should extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. The person was not authorized to discuss the private meeting publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Neither the president nor the four lawmakers spoke with reporters in advance of their session.
The guest list included two Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Democrats Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader.
The same group last met more than a month ago and emerged expressing optimism they could strike a deal that avoided the fiscal cliff. At that point, Boehner had already said he was willing to let tax revenues rise as part of an agreement, and the president and his Democratic allies said they were ready to accept spending cuts.