Only days remain to avoid Congress' self-imposed fiscal cliff. The multi-billion dollar question looms: will legislators act in time to prevent tax hikes and big cuts?
The start of 2013 is the deadline for Congress to act on its self-imposed fiscal cliff. Little progress has been made since left-right divides over the country's debt nearly led the U.S. to default just short of a year-and-a-half ago.
Congress raised the borrowing limit and agreed to impending large-scale cuts to take effect should a deal not come to fruition in the interim. They said the tough measures would encourage more fruitful bargaining; so far compromise has yet to ripen.
Following a ceremonial event in Montpelier, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he'll fly back to the negotiating table Sunday. "It's tough bargaining, I was there until about 10 o'clock last night," he said with a scratchy throat, "probably the reason my voice is gone."
"The truth is, most of us on the outside don't know," said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), "I mean this is a four-way conversation between the president, the speaker, the senate leader and the minority leader."
Should Congress fail to act, most economists predict the country will fall back into recession. G.D.P. is expected to fall by half a percent, and unemployment to rise above nine percent. Defense and social service budgets face massive cuts. The one percent, and the 99, will all pay more in taxes.
Vermont's legislators say the House leadership's refusal to allow legislation passed in the Senate to reach the house floor is the biggest obstacle to compromise. "Vote 'yes' or vote 'no', don't vote 'maybe', the American people are sick of 'maybe'," said Leahy.
Congressman Welch said he feels sides should not rush a deal at the expense of quality. He's unsure if compromise can be found before the Jan. 1, 2013 deadline. "I'm getting pessimistic about it in all candor," he said.
The first few weeks of the fiscal cliff are not steep, and Welch says a strong bargain could feasibly be ready by within the first week of next month.
Leahy and Welch say they both expect any coming agreement to be a short term patch to a long-term problem.