Utah's Hatch: We're going over the fiscal cliff
Utah delegation • Sen. Lee also says he sees little chance to keep the ax from falling on spending.
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Washington • Does Sen. Orrin Hatch think the country is headed over the fiscal cliff amid Washington gridlock?

"Uh-huh," the Utah lawmaker said Thursday as he headed to a Senate vote in the waning days before taxpayers are smacked with rate hikes and the ax falls on federal spending across the board.

"I wouldn't say there's no question, but I'd say that's where they're headed," Hatch added, arguing Democrats actually wanted to delay any deal until after Jan. 1 as a political tactic.

"I've seen these things break down in the last minutes in the past, but right now I actually think [Democrats] want to go over the cliff."

In a rare session between Christmas and New Year's Day, the Senate met to discuss a bill on foreign intelligence laws and help for victims of Superstorm Sandy. But it was the fiscal cliff weighing senators down.

"I'm not that optimistic," Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said as he walked onto an elevator.

Asked whether she thought a deal was close, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., just laughed.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, a freshman Republican, wasn't sure what was going to happen.

"It's really hard to say," he said when asked if Congress could fail to make a deal. "There certainly is a very significant risk of it."

The House, Senate and President Barack Obama remain in a squabble over how to avert the crisis; House Republicans want the Democratic-controlled Senate to act.

Senate Democrats say they'll only move on legislation if Republicans won't try to block it; Senate Republicans aren't sure if they'd try since they don't know what legislation they'd be voting on.

With the president back after cutting his Hawaii vacation short, the White House was forced to deny claims that it was sending Congress a limited proposal to forestall tax hikes and spending cuts.

But there did appear to be some movement in a direction of compromise as the hours wore on Thursday, even though it was tenuous.

tburr@sltrib.com