"We wanted an agreement, but we had no takers. The phone never rang and so here we are five days from the new year and we might finally start talking," McConnell said.
Still, he warned: "Republicans aren't about to write a blank check for anything the Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff."
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner, responded in a similar vein to Reid's comments. "Harry Reid should talk less and legislate more if he wants to avert the fiscal cliff. The House has already passed legislation to do so," he said, referring to a measure that extends existing cuts at all income levels.
Addressing the GOP rank and file by conference call, Boehner said the next move is up to the Senate, which has yet to act on House-passed bills to retain expiring tax cuts at all income levels and replace across-the-board spending cuts with targeted savings aimed largely at social programs.
"The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass - but the Senate must act," he said, according to a participant in the call.
At the same time, Boehner told Republican lawmakers the House would convene on Sunday evening.
The risk of higher milk prices stems from the possibility that existing farm programs will expire at year's end, and neither chamber of Congress has scheduled a vote on even a temporary extension to prevent a spike. There have been unverified estimates that the cost to consumers of a gallon of milk could double without action by Congress.
The president flew home from Hawaii overnight after speaking with top congressional leaders.
Before leaving the White House last Friday, the president had called on lawmakers to pass scaled-down legislation that prevents tax increases for the middle class, raises rates at upper incomes and renews expiring unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. He said he still supports a more sweeping measure to include spending cuts to reduce deficits, but said they could wait until the new year.