House of Representatives taking long weekend despite no fiscal cliff deal

Washington (CNN) — They’re leaving. With the nation heading full steam toward the $7 trillion fiscal cliff, the House of Representatives is taking a break without a deal in place yet to avert the mix of steep spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect in a matter of weeks.

The rancor between the White House and the Republican leadership is so thick that there aren’t even private talks taking place to address the issue.

With the cliff unresolved and negotiations in limbo, economists are now talking recession, financial are markets getting nervous, and ordinary Americans are taking stock of their finances.

Although polls suggest the public will more likely blame congressional Republicans if a deal isn’t reached, lawmakers from the Republican-controlled House streamed out of the Capitol in a midweek scene that typically plays out on Fridays.

House GOP leaders said they sent their members home because there is nothing that requires a vote.

“I’ll be here and I’ll be available at any moment to sit down with (President Barack Obama) to get serious about solving this problem,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio said during a news conference on Wednesday.

The move also sends a message to the White House: It’s your move Mr. President.

Both Republicans and Democrats have expended effort taking the fiscal cliff messaging effort outside the Beltway. It started when the president asked his supporters to use social media to pressure their legislators to move on the fiscal cliff.

Then the president headed to Pennsylvania to hold a rally-style event to gather support for his fiscal cliff proposals. Finally, labor groups joined in asking their supporters to contact their representatives.

Republicans weren’t too far behind.

The speaker’s office announced shortly after the president began his PR effort that Republican members will roll out a series of events in Washington and in their districts across the country with small business owners to frame Democrats demands to oppose upper income tax cuts as a threat to new jobs.

That’s just what they are headed home to do.

“The most pressing issue is clearly the fiscal cliff yet the president and his staff have not even directly responded to us on our letter to him,” an aide to Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters.

“If the President is not serious about working to fix the problem, then Members will go back to their districts and meet with small business owners who would be negatively affected by the President’s tax rate hikes,” the aide said.

Both the stakes and egos are in huge in this game of chicken, political experts say.

“Both sides need to recognize there’s not enough time to go big right now,” said David Walker, former comptroller general of the United States who has advised lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on crafting a debt resolution. “You don’t do grand bargains in even numbered years. The public has not been adequately prepared for the big sacrifices that have to be made.”

Even as House lawmakers left town, leadership inched toward a deal.

Boehner acknowledged that taxes on the wealthy will have to increase-a nod to the political reality of the impact of Obama’s re-election victory and public support for the higher taxes on that group. He also challenged Obama to sit down with him to hammer out a deal.

Obama, however, continued to insist on Republicans first ensuring no tax hike for anyone but the top 2% of Americans as a first step toward a broader agreement on tackling the nation’s chronic federal deficits and debt.

We’ve been here before.

In 2009 members of congress were verbally pummeled by their constituents over health care reform when they returned to their home districts for the August recess.

And during the following midterm elections, voters showed lawmakers exactly what they though of that move by ushering in a new wave of tea party backed freshmen.

Two years later, it’s business as usual.

Cantor has said the chamber won’t adjourn for the holidays until a workable solution to the fiscal cliff is in place.

In the meantime, there’s only so much of the brinksmanship the public will tolerate.

Republicans might feel the pressure for negotiations to succeed, but the White House shouldn’t be smug, Walker said.

“I don’t think this was a mandate election at all,” Walker said. “For anyone to say they have a clear mandate from the public I don’t think is credible. The public is saying we’re tired of the partisan bickering we want you to go to work and do your jobs.”

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