By Fred Barbash
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The failure of Democrats and Republicans to break the impasse over the "fiscal cliff" is raising the possibility of Congress going beyond the year-end deadline to complete the work necessary to avert steep tax hikes and budget cuts that experts fear could push the nation into another recession.
A top Democrat in the House of Representatives said if the two sides agreed in principle on a deal but ran out of time to draft and pass the legislation implementing it, Congress could pass a temporary measure and work out the details in the following weeks.
Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking House Democrat, raised the overtime possibility in a Fox News interview Thursday, just before President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met at the White House and failed to break the impasse on the key tax issue holding up movement in the talks.
"We could pass a bill that says we put everything off for 15 days," Hoyer said, and then craft the legislation locking a deal in place.
The "everything" to which Hoyer referred includes income tax rate cuts and other tax provisions that expire on December 31 as well as across-the-board spending reductions, the so-called "sequestration."
The tax rates, lowered temporarily during the administration of former President George W. Bush and extended in 2010, are the major sticking point. Republicans want them kept in place for all taxpayers while Democrats insist they be raised for high earners.
Asked by Fox's Neil Cavuto if failure to even agree in principle would prevent a temporary extension, Hoyer said, "If we don't get an agreement of any type, then, yes, I think you're going to run into a hard-and-fast deadline of December 31, when a lot of things expire."
Obama and Boehner met face to face for about 50 minutes at the White House following yet another day of finger-pointing between Republicans and Democrats.
Aides on both sides called the meeting "frank" and said the lines of communication remained open.
The meeting, also attended by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, was announced after frustration broke out on both sides at a lack of progress and stocks turned negative due to fears the economy could dip into recession again if politicians fail to break the gridlock in Washington.
At a meeting earlier on Thursday, Obama's top economic adviser, Gene Sperling, delivered a downbeat message to Democratic senators about the status of the fiscal cliff talks.
A Democratic aide described the presentation as "bleak," saying Sperling told the senators that "we don't have anywhere to go until Republicans move on (income tax) rates."
Republicans offered similar gloom. "Based on the White House's current approach, it looks like we're in for a protracted conflict until the snow melts," Illinois Representative Peter Roskam said in an interview.
"They (the White House) are pushing us over the cliff," said Roskam, a member of Boehner's leadership team.
Little progress in the negotiations was expected on Friday with Boehner set to return to his congressional district in Ohio for the weekend.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)