By Charles Babington, Associated PressWASHINGTON -- It's entirely possible that lawmakers and the White House will reach a deal that staves off an avalanche of tax increases and deep cuts in government programs before a Jan. 1 deadline. To do so, however, they'll have to resolve deep political and fiscal disagreements that have stymied them time after time despite repeated promises to overcome them. For many economists, corporate leaders and politicians, it's unconscionable to let the government veer over the "fiscal cliff," which could drain $500 billion from the still-struggling economy next year. But even President Barack Obama says it could happen. "Obviously we can all imagine a scenario where we go off the fiscal cliff," the president said last week. The likeliest cause, he suggested, would be "too much stubbornness in Congress," especially on the issue of taxes. > > Bull or Bear? Vote in Our Poll Many Republicans in Congress counter that it's Obama who is too unyielding. The knottiest issues facing the White House and congressional negotiators include:
Obama's campaign promise to raise tax rates on the wealthy precludes that. Either rates on the rich will rise and Republicans will absorb defeat on a huge priority, or the rates will remain unchanged, a political defeat for Obama.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R., Idaho) is among the conservatives who seem unlikely to embrace a bipartisan compromise. "We will continue to fight any member of our conference that decides this is a good time to raise taxes," he said last week.