Little apparent progress in US ‘fiscal cliff’ talks

With barely a month left before the "fiscal cliff," Republicans and Democrats remained far apart on Friday in talks to avoid the across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts that threaten to throw the country back into recession.

While US President Barack Obama visited a Pennsylvania toy factory to muster public support for tax hikes on the rich, portraying Republicans as scrooges at Christmas time, his primary adversary in negotiations, Republican House Speaker John Boehner, continued to describe the situation as a stalemate.

The argument will resume on Sunday when Boehner, along with Obama's Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and others, take to weekly political talk shows and pick up further steam next week with a possible confrontation in the House of Representatives between Democrats and Republicans over the timing of a vote on tax hikes.

Lawmakers are nervously eyeing the markets as the deadline approaches, with gyrations likely to intensify pressure to bring the drama to a close.

The markets, in turn watching the politicians, fell as Boehner spoke, but recovered afterward. It was a repeat of the pattern earlier in the week when the speaker offered a similarly gloomy assessment.

The latest round of high-stakes gamesmanship focuses on whether to extend the temporary tax cuts that originated under former President George W Bush beyond their December 31 expiration date for all taxpayers, as Republicans want, or just for those with incomes under $250,000, as Obama and his fellow Democrats want.

After five days of increasingly confrontational exchanges, the work week drew to a close with an announcement by Democrats of a long-shot effort next week to force an early tax-hike vote in the Republican-controlled US House to break the deadlock.

More House Republicans - although still just a handful -expressed flexibility beyond that of their party leaders about considering an increase in tax rates for the wealthy, as long as they are accompanied by significant spending cuts.

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