US & Canada

US fiscal cliff: Boehner still hopes for deal

Republicans will keep working to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff of tax rises and spending cuts, House Speaker John Boehner has said.

Earlier, right-leaning Republicans rejected a plan by Mr Boehner to raise taxes on higher earners.

Mr Boehner said "significant spending cuts and real tax reforms" were needed.

President Barack Obama said he believed a deal could still be done to beat the 1 January deadline, and called for everyone to "give a little bit".

Analysts say the Republicans' rejection of Mr Boehner's plan has weakened his position in negotiations with the Obama administration.

Mr Boehner's plan would have had little chance of passing a Senate vote.

It was seen as an effort to tell the US public that the Republicans should not be blamed if a deal could not be reached.

The House is controlled by the Republicans, but the Senate is Democrat-led.

'God only knows'

At a news conference, Mr Boehner conceded the House's failure to take up the tax bill was not the outcome that he wanted.

He said "God only knows" how the cliff would be avoided, but Republicans would keep working on a plan to protect families and small businesses.

"We only run the House. Democrats continue to run Washington," he said.

If politicians fail to agree new fiscal rules by the end of year, steep tax rises and deep spending cuts are meant to take effect automatically.

Analysts say the resulting "fiscal cliff" could take the US into recession.

The House of Representatives is not expected to meet until after Christmas, while the Senate was due to meet only briefly on Friday.

Although Mr Boehner's proposal would have ensured a tax cut for 99.8% of Americans, it would have imposed a rise on those earning more than $1m (£600,000).

Mr Boehner said he had been unable to garner sufficient votes to secure passage of the bill.

Mr Obama initially sought tax rises for those earning more than $250,000, but later offered a compromise threshold of $400,000.

He also offered a change to the way Social Security cost of living adjustments are made for some recipients, cuts from government healthcare programmes and a two-year extension of the debt ceiling.

'Non-starters'

Mr Boehner announced his bill on Tuesday, saying he would bring forward a measure that extended Bush-era tax cuts for those earning less than $1m per year - but would not address the automatic spending cuts.

On Wednesday, the Republican leadership added a companion bill that would replace the automatic cuts with a proposal to remove cuts from defence and government operating budgets. They would be offset by reductions elsewhere in the budget.

The proposal would cut food stamps, benefits for federal workers and some social services programmes.

That bill was narrowly passed.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Mr Boehner's plans were "non-starters in the Senate", while White House spokesman Jay Carney called them a "multi-day exercise in futility at a time when we do not have the luxury of exercises in futility".

Analysts have painted a grim picture of the consequences of going over the cliff, with some warning that the impact could push the US back into recession.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said in its latest economic outlook that the recession from the cliff could become global.