Exasperated US lawmakers warned Thursday they were no closer to a deal with the White House to avert severe tax hikes and austerity measures, as talks threatened their Christmas break.
With the US economy lurching toward the so-called "fiscal cliff," House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican negotiator, again blamed President Barack Obama for the impasse and demanded concessions on spending.
"It's clear that the president is just not serious about cutting spending. But spending is the problem," Boehner told reporters, insisting that tax increases alone will not resolve the US fiscal crisis.
"The president wants to pretend that spending isn't the problem -- that's why we don't have an agreement."
Boehner resorted to visual props to hammer home his point, with a graph chart showing the supposed trajectory of public spending in coming decades if no further cuts are made.
"Here we are at the 11th hour, and the president still isn't serious about dealing with this issue right here," he said, tapping at the chart. "If the president will step up... I think we can do some real good in the days ahead."
Obama has lowered to $1.4 trillion his opening gambit of seeking to raise $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue over 10 years.
Boehner has offered only $800 billion in new tax revenue, but by closing loopholes and ending some deductions, not by hiking actual tax rates.
The White House insists there will be no deal without a rise in tax rates on the wealthiest two percent of Americans.
Boehner conceded that Obama has offered hundreds of billions in spending cuts. "Unfortunately the new stimulus spending they want almost outstrips all of the spending cuts that they've outlined," he said.
Republicans seek deeper debt reductions including cuts to Social Security, but Democrats insist such action should be considered as part of broader reform in the coming year, not as part of a fiscal cliff fix in the coming weeks.
With just 18 days before the year-end deadline, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said time was "the most precious of all commodities" and that both sides need to buckle down in Washington and thrash out a deal.
"We could engineer a path forward to say what can we do in that amount of time," she said. But she accused Boehner of irresponsibly allowing the House to adjourn Thursday just when she felt they should stick around.
"Why are we going home instead of working very hard to forge an agreement to avoid that fiscal cliff?" she asked.
"We really have to come to an agreement in the next couple of days, or the very beginning of next week for us to have engineered our way to a solution."
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told members to prepare "retain flexibility in their travel schedules through the end of the year."
"The House will not adjourn the 112th Congress until action has been taken to avert the fiscal cliff," he said.