U.S. financial pact seems unlikely

Just days before Americans face massive automatic tax increases and deep federal spending cuts, Washington is showing no signs of forging a deficit reduction agreement to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. Many lawmakers are absent from Washington altogether, and the rest are pointing fingers and casting blame.

Watching official Washington, one might not know the nation is teetering on the edge of the fiscal cliff. President Barack Obama returned from a Hawaiian vacation Thursday with no events on his schedule.

The House of Representatives is adjourned until Sunday. The Senate is in session, but debating a bill governing U.S. intelligence gathering, not the budget.

That the House is closed for business at a critical time was noted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.

“I cannot imagine their consciences. They are out wherever they are around the country, and we are here trying to get something done,” he said.

The House adjourned last week after Republican Speaker John Boehner failed to muster enough votes to pass an extension of federal tax rates for all income up to $1 million a year, far above the $250,000 cut-off sought by Democrats.

A clearly frustrated Reid accused Boehner of employing heavy-handed tactics to block legislation and cast America off the fiscal cliff.

“The House of Representatives is operating without the House of Representatives. It is being operated with a dictatorship of the speaker,” he said.

A spokesman for Speaker Boehner said: “Senator Reid should talk less and legislate more.”

In fact, both chambers are accusing the other of stymieing bills to avert the fiscal cliff. A House-passed bill that would extend all tax cuts for all income groups has not been taken up in the Senate, while a Senate bill extending tax cuts for income up to $250,000 a year has not been considered in the House.

The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, recounted a recent telephone conversation he had with President Obama.

“Last night I told the president we would be happy to look at whatever he proposes. But the truth is, we are coming up against a hard deadline here. This is a conversation we should have had months ago,” he said.

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