WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will meet with congressional leaders today at the White House in search of a compromise to avoid a year-end fiscal cliff of across-the-board tax increases and deep spending cuts.
The development capped a day of growing urgency. Obama returned early from a Hawaiian vacation while lawmakers snarled across a partisan divide, leaders in each party blaming the other for an episode of government gridlock that threatens the economy with a new recession.
Adding to the woes confronting the middle class was a pending spike of $2 per gallon or more in milk prices if lawmakers failed to pass farm legislation by year's end.
Four days before the deadline, the White House disputed reports that Obama was sending lawmakers a scaled-down plan to avoid the fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts.
Administration officials confirmed the meeting at the White House in a bare-bones announcement that said the president would "host a meeting."
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner quickly issued a statement that said the Ohio Republican would attend and "continue to stress that the House has already passed legislation to avert the entire fiscal cliff and now the Senate must act."
Top Senate leaders said they remain ready to seek a last-minute agreement. Yet there was no legislation pending and no sign of negotiations in either the House or the Senate on a bill to prevent the tax increases and spending cuts that some economists say could send the economy into a recession.
Far from conciliatory, the rhetoric was confrontational and at times unusually personal.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused House Speaker John Boehner of running a dictatorship, citing his refusal to call a vote on legislation to keep taxes steady for most while letting them rise at upper incomes. The bill "would pass overwhelmingly," Reid predicted, and said that Boehner won't change his mind because he fears it might cost him re-election as speaker when the new Congress convenes next week.