Updated 1:17 p.m. ET
Two days before the "fiscal cliff" deadline, lawmakers and aides are working around the clock to cement a deal before across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts land at the start of the New Year.
Most of the players have projected confidence that some form of a deal remains in reach. "One of two things is going to happen when it comes to the fiscal cliff," predicted President Obama today on NBC's "Meet the Press." "Number one, we're going to see an agreement in the next 48 hours, in which case, middle-class taxes will not go up. If that doesn't happen, then Democrats in the Senate will put a bill on the floor of the Senate, and Republicans will have to decide if they're going to block it, which will mean that middle class taxes do go up. I don't think they would want to do that politically, but they may end up doing it."
If all else fails, said Mr. Obama, "then we'll come back with a new Congress on January 4 and the first bill that will be introduced on the floor will be to cut taxes on middle class families."
"One way or another, we'll get through this," declared the president.
He also explained why he believes a deal has been so elusive. "So far, at least, Congress has not been able to get this stuff done," Obama said. "Not because Democrats in Congress don't want to go ahead and cooperate, but because I think it's been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican Leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit as part of an overall deficit reduction package."
GOP congressional leaders did not think much of the president's assessment. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., released a statement saying, "While the President was taping those discordant remarks yesterday, Sen. McConnell was in the office working to bring Republicans and Democrats together on a solution. Discussions continue today."
And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, insisted that it was Obama, not Republicans, whose obstinacy has jeopardized a deal. "Americans elected President Obama to lead, not cast blame," Boehner's statement read. "The president's comments today are ironic, as a recurring theme of our negotiations was his unwillingness to agree to anything that would require him to stand up to his own party. Needed cuts and reforms that the president agreed to just last year were no longer on the table, as he cited an inability to sell them to Democrats."
Boehner added, "I am pleased Senators from both parties are currently working to find a bipartisan solution that can finally pass that chamber. That is the type of leadership America needs, not what they saw from the president this morning."
Both houses of Congress are in session today, waiting for an agreement to emerge, and aides and lawmakers worked all day yesterday and into the night trying to hash out a compromise. However, CBS News Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes reported this morning that Democrats are pessimistic about a deal, saying that negotiators are too far apart on the primary sticking point: taxes.
Democrats would still prefer to allow tax cuts to lapse on household income above $250,000, though they have shown some flexibility on that threshold, while Republicans would like to push that number as high as possible.
The Washington Post reported late yesterday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have set a deadline of 3 p.m. today for finalizing a deal, at which point they will convene caucus meetings and gauge support among rank-and file. If there is enough support to press ahead, the Senate will unveil legislation tonight and hold a vote by mid-day tomorrow, allowing the House to appraise the proposal for the remainder of New Years Eve.
Also at issue is an extension of unemployment insurance for job-seekers, which expired yesterday. President Obama has indicated that he would like unemployment benefits extended as part of an agreement, but Republicans have objected.
For now, the parameters of a deal seem to deal only with the "fiscal cliff" tax hikes, not the concurrent spending cuts. The $110 billion in automatic spending cuts - the "sequester" - remains unaddressed, and a Republican aide told CBS News that the cuts will proceed unless and until Congress amends them in the future. The aide also indicated that lifting the cap on the government's borrowing authority - the "debt ceiling" - will be left out of a "cliff" deal, queuing up another big fiscal fight after the New Year.