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Fiscal talks spark feud over whether to spend Christmas in Washington or home

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Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012: House Minority Leader of Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

The fiscal negotiations on Capitol Hill devolved Wednesday into a war over Christmas, with House Republicans vowing to stay in Washington over the holiday break to avert the looming economic crisis, while Democratic leadership said there's no reason congressional members can't be home for the holidays.

“It's going to be a long December for us,” Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said after getting his marching orders from House Speaker John Boehner.

His remarks were followed by those of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who flatly said: “We're going to stay here until Christmas Eve and even the time between and before the new year.”

Cantor is vowing that he and fellow Republicans will work through the holidays to reach a deal to avoid a roughly $500 billion mix of automatic tax increases and federal spending cuts that start on Jan. 1.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has expressed hope for a deal before Christmas. And she made clear Wednesday that lawmakers should be home instead of on Capitol Hill by then.

“Faith and family, that’s what the holidays are about,” the California Democrat said during a news conference. “These are bonding opportunities for families and strengtheners for our families. We should home for that.”

The Democrats' and Republicans’ remarks dampened the recent optimism in Washington that was created by a flurry of exchanges earlier this week between Boehner and President Obama – a meeting Sunday, an Obama offer Monday, and Boehner’s counter-offer Tuesday that was followed by another phone conversation.

Boehner refusal Tuesday night to talk about his counter-offer and the most recent phone call suggested a deal was within striking range, perhaps too delicate to fight over in public.

However, Boehner on Wednesday described the conversation as “deliberate” and focused on the divide they face.

Still, the debate in Washington was not exclusively about working over the break.

Boehner during a morning news conference also suggested Obama is holding up the deal, saying the White House's most recent proposal lacks a balanced approach of tax cuts and spending reductions.

He said the president’s most recent offer still has “too many taxes” and could pass in neither the House nor the Senate.

“The longer the White House slow-walks this, the closer we get to a fiscal cliff,” Boehner said after meeting with members of his leadership team. “I am the most optimistic person in town, but we have some differences.”

Pelosi within hours put the blame on Boehner, insisting he make House Republicans vote on what Obama has already offered, and some of his party member appear willing to accept a compromise to help avert the fiscal crisis and extending tax cuts to 98 percent of income earners.

“Figure it out. We did,” said Pelosi, referring to when she was House speaker and forced a full vote on funding the Iraq War. “Then go forward and debate the issue. ... What are we waiting for? Is there a dove going to fly in with a message tied to his leg?”