For all the talk of looming calamity, Washington remains conspicuously empty this week.
Congress is on Thanksgiving recess, and President Obama is winding down the last leg of his four-day, three-country Asia tour. Missing, at least publicly, is the exhaustive attention to the so-called fiscal cliff that Washington leaders have sounded the alarm on for weeks -- a mix of tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 1 that some fear would precipitate another recession.
"Fiscal cliff, what fiscal cliff?" quipped Jay Baxter, a 59-year-old maintenance worker from St. Louis, outside the White House gates on Monday. "Of all the times to stay in town -- I'm no expert on politics -- but I'd make sure the public knew I was working my butt off right now."
In the wake of their first joint meeting, both Obama and congressional leaders expressed optimism about a framework for a bipartisan solution to the fiscal crisis.
"There is no more 'Let's do it some other time,' " said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "We're going to do it now."
Despite no tangible progress, both groups left town, essentially leaving the heavy lifting until after their holiday break. Last week, the Senate took just three votes before its members went home for Thanksgiving, two of which were on a hunting bill.
With Republicans firmly against any increase in tax rates and Democrats adamantly opposed to cuts in entitlement spending, any solution will likely require a lengthy bartering session.
Administration officials and congressional leaders alike insist they are working behind closed doors ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday to ensure taxes don't go up on the average family by $3,500 next year. But Obama isn't expected to meet with lawmakers again until next week, when the legislative body returns to town.
Some analysts questioned whether the White House and Congress were all that serious about the consequences of plunging over the fiscal cliff.
"They create this atmosphere of crisis and hysteria, and then they go off for Thanksgiving and a diplomatic trip in Asia," said Republican consultant Mark Corallo. "You're left with this sense that they think we're all idiots. If it's so bad, why is it that they're not working?"
The White House noted that Obama reached out to business leaders like Warren Buffett over the weekend to press for a "balanced approach" to deficit reduction, saying the president's trip to Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia had not distracted him from critical domestic issues.
So far, Democrats remain focused on trying to win the political argument for raising taxes on individuals making more than $200,000 and married couples earning more than $250,000 a year. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent an email to supporters Monday, urging the public to tell House Republicans to "stand up for the middle class and ensure the wealthy pay their fair share."
However, some defended both parties' extended absence from Washington.
"Look, anytime Congress leaves town, people assume they aren't doing anything," former Rep. Bob Walker, R-Pa., told The Washington Examiner. "That's a totally fallacious kind of analysis. If this deal is going to work, members of Congress are going to have to sell it to their own constituencies. Having them begin to warm up their constituents is probably a good thing."
Added Stephen Hess, a former adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, "My history tells me the best time to get work done is when the president is actually away."