Congress Returns, Effort to Avert Tax Hikes and Spending Cuts Resumes

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Efforts to avoid the "fiscal cliff" have resumed in Washington following the long holiday weekend.

Congress and President Barack Obama have until the end of the year to avoid tax increases and automatic spending cuts. White House and congressional aides say Obama spoke separately over the weekend with House Speaker John Boehner (BAY'-nur) and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

Obama last met with bipartisan congressional leadership in mid-November. No new meetings have been announced.

In a new report today that coincides with the return of Congress, the White House warned that if lawmakers don't halt the automatic increases in taxes for households earning less than $250,000, consumers might even cut back their shopping ahead of time, during the current holiday season. Stocks in some major retailers have been lower today.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says as the end of the year approaches, the urgency of finding solutions intensifies. But on MSNBC, he reaffirmed Republican opposition to raising tax rates for the wealthy. Congressional Republicans have said they are open to discussing additional revenue, but not any plan that calls for higher tax rates.

Several key Republican lawmakers have said they won't be bound by a no-tax-increase pledge that they have stuck to in the past.