For the first time since the Nov., 6 elections, partisan bickering seems to trump productive bargaining as the two sides maneuvered for position.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters, "We're still waiting for a serious offer from Republicans," the Nevada Democrat said at a news conference.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was more emphatic.
Referring to a meeting at the White House more than a week ago, he said both sides agreed to a two-part framework that would include a significant down payment in 2012, along with a plan to expand on the savings in 2013.
"Each side said they'd submit a down payment. We have. Our preference is revenue. What is theirs?" he said, speaking of the Republicans.
The White House also circulated a memo that said closing loopholes and limiting tax deductions â¿¿ a preferred Republican alternative to Obama's call to raise high-end tax rates â¿¿ would be likely to depress charitable donations and wind up leading to a middle class tax increase in the near future.
At issue is a bipartisan desire to prevent the wholesale expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and the simultaneous implementation of across-the-board spending cuts. The potential spending reductions, to be divided between military and domestic programs, were locked into place more than a year ago in hopes the threat would have forced a compromise on a deficit reduction deal before now.
Economists in and out of government warn that sending the economy over the "cliff" would trigger a recession.
To avoid the danger, Obama and Congress are hoping to devise a plan that can reduce future deficits by as much as $4 trillion in a decade, cancel the tax increases and automatic spending cuts and expand the government's ability to borrow beyond the current limit of $16.4 trillion.
In the first few days after the elections, Boehner said he was willing to accept a deal that included new revenues, a long-time Democratic demand, and Obama has said he will sign on to savings from Medicare, Medicaid and other benefit programs that Democrats have long defended from proposed Republican cuts.