Obama cuts holiday to help avert 'fiscal cliff'

 

Honolulu

After just four days of vacation, President Barack Obama will leave Hawaii on Wednesday evening to return to Washington in a last-ditch effort to reach a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

Over the holiday, Obama's staff has been quietly working with Senate Democrats to come up with a plan to prevent the cliff — an automatic series of deep spending cuts and sharp tax increases on nearly all Americans — from taking effect in the new year.

After arriving in his native state early Saturday, the president has remained largely out of sight, golfing and spending time with his family. He left Washington late Friday, expressing hope that cooler heads would prevail after a month and a half of largely fruitless negotiations with congressional Republicans.

Little progress has been achieved over the past four days, and Obama will return to a capital city apparently as paralyzed as it was when he left. Senior Republican aides in both chambers said on Tuesday that their offices have not had contact with the White House over the holiday.

On Friday, before he left, Obama proposed a stopgap measure that would freeze tax rates for Americans earning less than $250,000 a year and extend unemployment benefits, which expire at the end of the month for 2 million Americans. The president has insisted that tax cuts for people earning more than $250,000 expire on schedule next week.

A senior GOP aide laughed off the proposal Tuesday, saying that extending unemployment insurance would drive up the deficit. Other Republicans, however, have shown more willingness to accept the president's plan, knowing that taxes will automatically rise without action by Congress.

Lawmakers are scheduled to return to business Thursday, but no specific talks are set. While some sort of stopgap measure appears most likely if the fiscal cliff is to be prevented, Obama is still holding out hope for a broader agreement to tame the national debt.

The stopgap measure he proposed could also address the alternative minimum tax — which, if left unpatched, would bring millions of Americans much bigger 2012 tax bills — as well as looming cuts in domestic and defense spending and reductions in Medicare payments to doctors.

Many lawmakers were pessimistic last week that any deal could make it through the House after Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had to pull a vote on his "Plan B" measure to raise taxes on millionaires because not enough Republicans backed it.

First lady Michelle Obama and the couple's daughters, Sasha and Malia, will stay in Hawaii. It is not clear if Obama would consider returning to continue his vacation.

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