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Pessimism Abounds as White House Calls Cliff Meeting

Lawmakers seemed as pessimistic as ever about averting the fiscal cliff Thursday evening despite the White House scheduling a meeting with the top four congressional leaders for Friday afternoon.

The White House announced that President Barack Obama would meet with Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The last-ditch effort to avert the cliff caps two years of false starts and failed deal-making.

Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said the speaker “will continue to stress that the House has already passed legislation to avert the entire fiscal cliff and now the Senate must act.”

And McConnell, speaking earlier on the Senate floor, ripped the president and Senate Democrats repeatedly — although he signaled he was prepared to try to reach a deal.

“I told the president I would be happy to look at whatever he proposes,” he said, but he warned, “Republicans aren’t about to write a blank check.”

He complained the talks should have happened weeks and months ago.

Reid complained on the floor that the House had left town and noted Republican leaders had repeatedly walked out of budget talks with the White House in the past two years. “You can’t legislate with yourself,” he said.

Reid, who earlier in the day suggested the nation appeared to be headed over the cliff, said he hopes the meeting bears fruit and a deal can be reached.

“It’s up to Boehner and McConnell,” he told reporters outside the Senate chamber.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the GOP had expected the White House to deliver a new proposal Thursday, which never arrived, and that the meeting with the White House was originally supposed to be in the morning and was later pushed to the afternoon. Corker said that suggests to him the meeting might be more for “optics” than for cutting a deal, and he said it’s becoming more likely that the next Congress will have to deal with the cliff. The failure to address a problem two years in the making is a total “dereliction of duty,” Corker said.

Corker said that in the end, however, no one doubts that 98 percent of taxpayers will avoid an income tax hike in the end — either with a last-minute deal or with a retroactive bill sometime early next year. He complained that Democrats still have not come to the table with significant entitlement reforms beyond changes to how the inflation rate is calculated for Social Security, tax brackets and other programs.

Several other senators expressed frustration with the lack of momentum for getting something done now, although Republicans including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said they were encouraged that Obama has spoken to McConnell.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., expressed hope that the Senate would be gone by New Year’s Eve. He cited “jet fumes and other spirits” as helping to aid the trip out of town.

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