Grand bargain shrinks as Congress nears U.S. budget deadline

No Deal

“At this point there’s zero percent chance of a big deal and maybe a 10 percent chance of a small deal before Jan. 1,” Collender said. He has predicted a no-deal scenario since before Memorial Day, and said the past two weeks of inaction reinforced his projection.

At this point, Collender said, whether the Senate moves first won’t matter.

“Nothing will move House Republicans if they don’t feel like getting moved,” he said. “They’ve never been swayed by the Senate before.”

The remaining option for averting the cliff, he said, would be if Boehner risks his House speakership to put to the floor a tax deal that would get a majority of Democrats to support it and few -- perhaps less than 50 -- Republicans.

“The Republican caucus would never forgive him,” he said. “The statesmanlike thing to do would be to say I’m the speaker of the House, not the head of the Republican party. That is the equivalent of never running for speaker again.”

Speaker Vote

Boehner was selected by his conference as the Republican nominee for House speaker. He needs an absolute majority of those present and voting on Jan. 3 -- 217 votes -- to be re-elected. Republicans will hold 234 seats to begin the 113th Congress in January. Once re-elected, Boehner will have more freedom to cut a deal, Collender said.

Until Dec. 17, Obama and Boehner had been edging closer to a deal that included $1 trillion each in tax increases and spending cuts. Boehner had put tax-rate increases on the table for income above $1 million a year, infuriating some lawmakers backed by anti-tax Tea Party groups.

That was the proposal he pulled from the House floor on Dec. 20 rather than see it defeated by his own caucus members.

It’s still possible to reach an agreement before the deadline. Both Obama and Boehner have offered concessions in talks, in person and by telephone, since Dec. 5.

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