A deadline looming, President Barack Obama will meet with congressional leaders at the White House on Friday in search of a compromise to avoid a year-end "fiscal cliff " of across-the-board tax increases and deep spending cuts.
The development capped a day of growing urgency in which Obama returned early from a Hawaiian vacation while lawmakers snarled across a partisan divide over responsibility for gridlock on key pocketbook issues. Speaker John Boehner called the House back into session for a highly unusual Sunday evening session.
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.
Four days before the deadline, the White House disputed reports that Obama was sending lawmakers a scaled-down plan to avoid the fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts.
Administration officials confirmed the Friday meeting at the White House in a bare-bones announcement that said the president would "host a meeting." An aide to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the Kentucky lawmaker "is eager to hear from the president." A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner issued a statement that said the Ohio Republican would attend and "continue to stress that the House has already passed legislation to avert the entire fiscal cliff and now the Senate must act." While there was no guarantee of a compromise, Republicans and Democrats said privately elements of any agreement would likely include an extension of middle class tax cuts with increased rates at upper incomes as well as cancellation of the scheduled spending cuts. An extension of expiring unemployment benefits, a reprieve for doctors who face a cut in Medicare payments and possibly a short-term measure to prevent dairy prices from soaring could also become part of a year-end bill, they said.
That would postpone politically contentious disputes over spending cuts for 2013.
Top Senate leaders said they remain ready to seek a last-minute agreement. Yet there was no legislation pending and no sign of negotiations in either the House or the Senate on a bill to prevent the tax hikes and spending cuts.