NASHVILLE, Tenn. - With just days left before the deadline for the so-called "fiscal cliff," Tennessee lawmakers weighed in on what got America to this point.
"Congress it at fault here. This is one of the laziest congresses, one of the most cowardly congresses Americans have ever seen," said Representative Jim Cooper from Tennessee's 5th District.
Democrats put the blame on Republicans and Republicans put the blame on Democrats, with the American taxpayer caught in the middle.
"Americans shouldn't even come close to this cliff, but that's where politics has gotten us, because Democrats and Republicans are fighting so much they're not solving problems," the Representative said.
According to Rep. Cooper the reason behind the delay in working out a deal is because House Speaker John Boehner wants to retain his position, and that will not happen until January 3.
"And once he's got that position, then maybe he'll be able to bargain a little bit more. But I think that's really what's holding things up right now," Rep. Cooper said.
He also feels members of Congress are using this issue to change the perception of what deal they eventually vote for.
"If you vote on something now, in December, it looks like a tax increase. But after the first of the year it'll look like a tax cut. The very same vote. It's just optics, it's semantics. I really think it's silly. But that's the way Republicans, or at least some of them in the house, are playing this game," Cooper said.
Representative Marsha Blackburn laid blame on the Democratic leadership in the United States Senate.
"The House has done its job. We have four bills awaiting action in the Senate that would have prevented this. Majority Leader Harry Reid needs to choose a bill, amend it, pass it and send it back to the house. This is a crisis of inaction. Leaders make choices and Leader Reid has chosen to do nothing. The lack of respect for both the legislative process and the American people by the Senate leadership is astounding. The American people deserve better from their elected representatives," said Rep. Blackburn from Tennessee's 7th District.
Representative Cooper is not ever optimistic a deal can be put together before the end-of-the-year deadline.
"Here we are near the deadline and Senator Reid predicted we would go over the cliff. That would be very, very unfortunate," according to Cooper.
What happens if the country is forced over the "fiscal cliff" on January 1?
Various federal tax cuts and breaks enacted under President George W. Bush expire as well as the payroll tax holiday enacted under President Obama.
About $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts begin to kick in (approximately $110 billion a year for 10 years), divided equally between the Pentagon and most other federal agencies.
And federal jobless benefits expire for 2 million unemployed Americans.
Hitting the national economy with the double whammy of tax increases and spending cuts is what's called going over the "fiscal cliff." If allowed to unfold over 2013, it could lead to recession, a big jump in unemployment and financial market turmoil, economists predict.
If lawmakers fail to work out any sort of deal, there will be severe long-term consequences for the economy: According to the Tax Policy Center, going off the "cliff" would affect 88 percent of U.S. taxpayers, with their taxes rising by an average of $3,500 a year; taxes would jump $2,400 on average for families with incomes of $50,000 to $75,000. Because consumers would get less of their paychecks to spend, businesses and jobs would suffer.
Many economists, as well as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, say the combination of spending cuts and tax hikes that are set to take effect would tip the economy into a new recession. The Congressional Budget Office has forecast that implementing all the mandated government spending cuts and tax hikes would reduce real GDP by 0.5 percent in 2013, with growth sinking in the first half of the year before resuming at a modest clip later in the year. The CBO forecasts that inaction would push up the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent by the end of 2013.
"The consequences of that would be felt by everybody," Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said.
If the nation goes over the fiscal cliff, budget cuts of 8 percent or 9 percent would hit most of the federal government, touching all sorts of things from agriculture to law enforcement and the military to weather forecasting. A few areas, such as Social Security benefits, Veterans Affairs and some programs for the poor, are exempt.
The spending cuts, meanwhile, are phased in gradually. It's not as though $1.2 trillion would suddenly disappear from the economy at the end of the year: The cuts, while undeniably significant, are set to be phased in over a decade. In addition, there are budgetary maneuvers that can be taken to at least somewhat soften the blow of both the tax hikes and spending cuts. (The Treasury Department could, for instance, freeze paycheck withholding levels.) Certainly, total inaction on the "fiscal cliff" over the long term would likely have a deeply negative impact on the economy. But if a deal comes in January or February, after the deadline - as it well could - the structural damage could be relatively small.
Mr. Obama said any deal must include higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans. Many House Republicans oppose raising anyone's tax rates. House Speaker John Boehner tried to get the House to vote for higher taxes only on incomes above $1 million but dropped the effort when it became clear he didn't have the votes.
Republicans also insist on deeper spending cuts than Democrats want to make. And they want to bring the nation's long-term debt under control by significantly curtailing the growth of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - changes that many Democrats oppose.
Mr. Obama, meanwhile, wants more temporary economic "stimulus" spending to help speed up a sluggish recovery. Republicans say the nation can't afford it.
If lawmakers reach Dec. 31 without a deal, some economists worry that the financial markets might swoon. Would traders start to panic if Washington appeared unable to reach accord? Would worried consumers and businesses sharply reduce their spending? In what could be a preview, stock prices around the world dropped Friday after House Republican leaders' plan for addressing the fiscal cliff collapsed.
(CBS Interactive Inc. and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)