To avoid some $600 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that begin to take effect as of Jan. 1, the White House and Congress have, as a practical deadline, until week's end or, at the latest, Christmas to reach a deal, he says. "I don't assign a high probability to end of this week; I assign a high hope."
Republicans, too, charge that Mr. Obama is slow-walking the fiscal-cliff negotiations. “The president seems to be walking us ever so slowly toward the cliff," says House majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, after a meeting with the House GOP caucus on Wednesday.
"We've said we are committed to staying here. We are going to stay here right up until Christmas Eve, throughout the time and period before the New Year, because we want to make sure that we resolve this in an acceptable way for the American people," he added.
Democrats say the November election shifted the ground under long-standing GOP bargaining positions, such as no tax hikes, ever.
"The idea that the speaker may have to bring something for the good of the country to the floor of the House that does not get a majority of Republican votes may be necessary right now," says Van Hollen. "The president likes to remind people that he won the election on the issues we're talking about."