WHITE HOUSE— Leaders in the U.S. Senate questioned Sunday whether they can work out a deal to prevent a fiscal crisis that could damage the fragile economic recovery. Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans are still far apart, one day before the deadline.
In a prayer at the opening of the rare Sunday Senate session, Chaplain Barry Black asked God to help the two parties find a compromise. “Lord, show them the right thing to do, and give them the courage to do it. And save us from self-inflicted wounds," he said.
So far, the prayer has not been answered.
The Senate’s top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been exchanging proposals, without success.
Reid said Sunday the process had hit a standstill. “The Republican Leader has shown absolutely good faith. It is just that we are apart on some pretty big issues," he said.
Democrats are reported to oppose a provision in a proposal McConnell made late Saturday that would limit future payments to Social Security recipients.
Reid said he has been in contact with President Barack Obama throughout the past two days, and has been unable to come up with a counteroffer.
The Democratic leader said he is hopeful but realistic about the prospects of an agreement.
McConnell is calling on Vice President Joe Biden, a former Senate colleague, to take part in the negotiations. He says Democrats have a shown a lack of urgency in the talks.
“The sticking point appears to be a willingness, an interest, or frankly, the courage to close the deal. I want everyone to know I am willing to get this done, but I need a dance partner," he said.
President Obama Friday instructed Reid to introduce a scaled-back proposal in the Senate, if he and McConnell failed to reach a deal.
In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” recorded Saturday, Obama blamed Republicans for the failure to forge a compromise.
“They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way. But the way they are behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme. And at some point, I think, what is going to be important is that they listen to the American people," he said.
Americans will be hit with an estimated $600 billion in tax increases and government spending cuts Tuesday, if no agreement is reached.