CBS NEWS – As the nation teeters on the edge of the so-called “fiscal cliff,” President Obama returns to Washington Thursday to resume negotiations with Congress over a deal to keep taxes from going up on Americans. But a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the state of play as lawmakers trickle back to Capitol Hill for a new round of talks, and voters are expressing diminishing faith in the two sides’ ability to hammer out an agreement.

Mr. Obama, who spent Christmas in Hawaii with his family, announced yesterday he would be returning to Washington on an overnight flight tonight. But after ongoing negotiations fell apart last week between the president and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, it’s not clear if a deal will be made before a series of tax hikes and spending cuts set to go into effect next year.

According to a new Gallup poll, voters are markedly less optimistic now than in recent weeks that the two parties will be able to hammer out a compromise before January 1. The survey, conducted between Dec. 21-22, indicates that 50 percent of Americans believe that a deal is likely, while 48 percent say it’s doubtful; in the previous three weeks, a firm majority of Americans expressed confidence that a deal could be reached.

Congressional Republicans have indicated in recent days that they have not been in communication with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., over the makings of a possible deal, and signs indicate that Reid is crafting his own package with input from the White House.

Reid’s proposal would likely be a stopgap measure extending the Bush-era tax cuts on 98 percent of incomes while letting them expire for the wealthiest Americans. It could also include enough short-term spending cuts to temporarily offset across-the-board spending cuts set to go into effect on January 1, 2013, and try to tie up some year-end loose ends by extending long-term unemployment benefits, patching the alternative minimum tax, and preventing a big scheduled drop-off in Medicare reimbursement rates to doctors at the start of the year.

For such a bill to reach the president’s desk, however, Boehner would have to agree to take it up in the House — a move that could incite further ire among the conservative wing of his party. If he did decide to bring a Democratic bill up for a vote on the House floor, 26 Republicans and all 191 Democrats would have to vote for it to move the process forward.


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