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Nearly out of time, lawmakers brace for blame on fiscal cliff

 

There are a few different cast members, but the dialogue of the fiscal cliff drama is the same as it was yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that.

Progress on the negotiations remains deadlocked, with a plunge over the cliff looking more and more likely as the remaining hours wane before the looming tax increases and spending cuts are set to take effect at the beginning of next year.

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With House members away from the Capitol until Sunday, Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell spent the lawmakers' first day back after the Christmas holiday mostly rehashing the same rhetorical salvos launched by their House counterparts before the break.  

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid condemns House Speaker John Boehner for not calling representatives back to Washington as the fiscal cliff deadline looms.

"I have to be honest — I don’t know, time-wise, how it can happen now," Democratic leader Reid lamented on the Senate floor earlier today, lashing House Speaker John Boehner for ruling the House by "dictatorship" by failing to bring compromise measures backed by Democrats to come up for a vote.

McConnell, the chief negotiator for Republicans in the Senate, also held firm Thursday, slamming Democrats for failing to push measures that could garner sufficient support from Republicans.

"Republicans aren't about to write a blank check for anything Senate Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff," McConnell warned. "It's not fair to the American people."

A cosmetic bright spot in today's gloomy prognostications came with the announcement that Boehner has summoned House members back for votes on Sunday evening, instructing that they may be needed for votes through Jan. 2 to deal with the impending crisis.

Related: Boehner calls House back to Washington on Sunday

But without a possible deal to vote on, their mere presence may be mostly for theatrical purposes, as both sides seek to divert voters' ire away from their party if they are hit with the fiscal cliff's automatic tax increases.

Boehner, for his part, insisted to fellow House Republicans that the Senate must act first after his caucus failed to pass a 'Plan B' measure that would have hiked tax rates for earners making over $1 million annually.

Susan Walsh / AP

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid during a ceremony for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye in Washington on Thursday, Dec. 20.

"We've done our job, it's up to the Senate to act," Boehner told Republican House members on a conference call today, according to a participant. "We'll see if they do anything."

With prospects for a last-minute deal looking bleak, attention has turned to what impact a tumble over the fiscal cliff would have.

With five days until the Bush-era tax cuts expire, House Speaker John Boehner has essentially removed the House from final negotiations, telling the Senate it's up to them to come up with a deal that his chamber will pass.

While some financial pains would be felt right away -- and the markets would likely react sharply -- many of the longer-term tax rate changes and spending cuts triggered by the cliff would be reversible if a deal is reached early next year.

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But that may well end up being the job of the 113th Congress, which convenes for the first day on Jan. 3.