* Little sign of movement in talks
* Focus shifting to Congress acting after Jan. 1
WASHINGTON, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Some U.S. lawmakers voiced
concern on Sunday that the country would go over "the fiscal
cliff" in nine days, triggering harsh spending cuts and tax
hikes, and some Republicans charged that was President Barack
"It's the first time that I feel it's more likely that we
will go over the cliff than not," Senator Joe Lieberman, an
independent from Connecticut, said on CNN's "State of the
"If we allow that to happen it will be the most colossal
consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long
time, maybe ever in American history."
"It looks like to me that obviously this is going to drag on
into next year, which is going to hurt our economy," Republican
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said on CBS "Capitol Gains."
The Democratic president and Republican House of
Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the two key negotiators,
are not talking and are out of town for the Christmas holidays.
Congress is in recess, and will have only a few days next week
to act before Jan. 1.
On the Sunday TV talk shows, no one signaled a change of
position that could form the basis for a short-term fix, despite
a suggestion from Obama on Friday that he would favor one.
The focus was shifting instead to the days following Jan. 1
when the lowered tax rates dating back to President George W.
Bush's administration will have expired, presenting Congress
with a redefined and more welcome task that involves only
cutting taxes, not raising them.
"I believe we are," going over the cliff, Republican Senator
John Barrasso of Wyoming said on Fox News Sunday. "I think the
president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes.
I think he sees a political victory at the bottom of the cliff."
Some Republicans have said Obama would welcome the fiscal
cliff's tax increases and defense cuts, as well as the chance to
blame Republicans for rejecting deal. Obama has rejected that
Democrats have charged that Boehner has his own
self-interested reasons for avoiding a deal before Jan. 3, when
the House elected on Nov. 6, is sworn in and casts votes for a
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said on NBC's
"Meet the Press" that Boehner has been reluctant to reach across
the political aisle for fear it could cost him the speakership
when he runs for re-election. "I know he's worried," said
Boehner, who so far has no serious challenger for the job of
speaker, has said that he has no such concerns.
Such finger pointing has been under way since Congress
returned after the election, but it has gained intensity in the
past few days, with the heightened prospect of plunging off the
Congress started the clock ticking in August of 2011 on the
cliff. The threat of about $600 billion of spending cuts and tax
increases was intended to shock the Democratic-led White House
and Senate and the Republican-led House into bridging their many
differences to approve a plan to bring tax relief to most
Americans and curb runaway federal spending.
Economists say the harsh tax increases and budget cuts from
the fiscal cliff could thrust the world's largest economy back
into a recession, unless Congress acts quickly to ease the
MARKETS COULD TUMBLE
The most immediate impact could come in financial markets,
which have been relatively calm in recent weeks as Republicans
and Democrats bickered, but could tumble without prospects for a
Markets will be open for a half-day on Christmas Eve, when
Congress will not be in session, and will be closed on Tuesday
Wall Street will resume regular stock trading on Wednesday,
but volume is expected to be light throughout the week with
scores of market participants away on a holiday break.
If Congress fails to reach any agreement, income tax rates
will go up on just about everyone on Jan. 1. Unemployment
benefits, which Democrats had hoped to extend as part of a deal,
will expire for many as well.
In the first week of January, Congress could scramble and
get a quick deal on taxes and the $109 billion in automatic
spending cuts for 2013 that most lawmakers want to avoid.
Once tax rates go up on Jan. 1, it could be easier to keep
those higher rates on wealthier taxpayers while reducing them
for middle- and lower-income taxpayers. Lawmakers would not have
to cast votes to raise taxes.
Some lawmakers expressed guarded hope that a short-term deal
on deficit reduction could be reached in the next week or so,
with a longer, more permanent deal hammered out next year.
But a short-term deal would need bipartisan support, as
Obama has said he would veto a bill that does not raise taxes on
the wealthiest Americans.
Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, chairman of the Budget
Committee, said Obama and Boehner are not that far apart and
that both sides should keep pushing for a long-term big deal.
"I would hope we would have one last attempt here to do what
everyone knows needs to be done, which is the larger plan that
really does stabilize the debt and get us moving in the right
direction," Conrad of North Dakota told Fox News Sunday.
But most Republicans are now looking past Jan. 1 to what
they consider their next best chance of leveraging Obama for
more cuts in the Federal budget - a fight over the debt ceiling
expected in late January or early February. At that time, the
administration will need Congress' authorization to raise the
limit on the amount of money the government can borrow.
"That's where the real chance for change occurs, at the
debt-ceiling debate," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South
Carolina said on "Meet the Press."