Little progress in "fiscal cliff" talks, senior lawmaker says

WASHINGTON Sun Nov 25, 2012 11:16am EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers have made little progress in the last 10 days toward a compromise to avoid the harsh tax increases and government spending cuts scheduled for January 1, a senior Democratic senator said on Sunday.

The United States is on course to slash its budget deficit nearly in half next year. Closing the gap that quickly, which in Washington is referred to as going over a "fiscal cliff," could easily trigger a recession.

"Unfortunately, for the last 10 days, with the House and Congress gone for the Thanksgiving recess ... much progress hasn't been made," Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told ABC's "This Week" program.

A deadline is looming. Absent action by lawmakers and President Barack Obama, roughly $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts will start to hit households and companies in early January.

Republicans and Obama's Democrats are at an impasse over the president's wish to raise income tax rates on the wealthiest Americans, which Republicans say would hurt job creation.

Republicans also want to cut spending on social programs more than Democrats say they will accept.

Durbin said Democrats are willing to allow small changes to parts of these entitlement programs, including public health insurance programs for the elderly and poor, but the Social Security government pension program should not be on the table.

"Bring entitlement reform into the conversation. Social Security, set (it) aside," Durbin said.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; editing by Todd Eastham)

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