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Political bickering over fiscal cliff persists

Congressional leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, was unable to gain sufficient support to push through his 'Plan B' on Thursday. In order to avoid a recession, Boehner and President Obama aim to reach a deal before January. 

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Obama and Boehner aim to reach a deal before the New Year, when taxes will automatically rise for nearly all Americans and the government will have to scale back spending on domestic and military programs. Economists say the combined $600 billion hit to the economy could push the U.S. economy into recession.

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Boehner said Obama now must first pass a bill through the Democratic-controlled Senate before he holds another vote in the House.

Democrats said Boehner should first hammer out a deal with Obama. "The only way to avoid the cliff altogether is for Speaker Boehner to return to negotiations," said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

With Republicans in chaos, Boehner will almost certainly need support from House Democrats to pass a deal before the end of the year. But he will have to keep an eye on his right flank before he stands for re-election as the top House lawmaker on Jan. 3.

Alternatively, Boehner could wait until the new year to hold a vote. At that point, tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 will have expired for all Americans, and it presumably would be easier to pass a bill that would restore tax cuts for most.

Opinion polls show that more Americans would blame Republicans rather than Obama if they don't reach a deal before then.

So far, negotiations appear to be following the dysfunctional pattern set by the 2011 battle over the debt ceiling: fitful progress alternating with public posturing. Boehner also struggled during that showdown to corral the most conservative members of his own party.

Washington narrowly avoided defaulting on the U.S. government's debt in August 2011, but the down-to-the-wire nature of the effort prompted a first-ever debt rating downgrade and spooked investors and consumers.

This time around, concern over the fiscal cliff has weighed on markets but analysts say that investors appear to be assuming that the two sides will avert disaster.

"The markets are likely to interpret this as signaling even tougher negotiations in coming days," Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of bond giant PIMCO, told Reuters.

S&P 500 stock futures fell 1.6 percent while Dow Jones stock futures and Nasdaq futures both lost 1.5 percent. At one point S&P 500 e-mini futures were down as much as 3.6 percent.

Lawmakers had hoped to wrap up work before the year-end Christmas break, but leaders in both the House and the Senate have indicated that they may call members back to work next week.

"The brinkmanship will continue," said a senior Republican aide. "This isn't the end of the story. More drama to come."

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