POSTED: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 4:30pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 4:34pm
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — Congress got back to work Tuesday with a packed agenda.
Lawmakers have roughly seven weeks to reach a budget deal that will avoid massive tax increases and budget cuts known as the 'fiscal cliff'.
The new year will bring about $600 billion in budget cuts and one of the steepest tax increases in 60 years, with middle income families paying about $2,000 dollars more in taxes a year if a deal isn't reached.
Lawmakers disagree on the specifics of the budget needed to significantly reduce the deficit.
Republicans still want to extend tax cuts for everyone and focus on spending cuts.
Democrats, including the president, favor raising taxes on the wealthy in combination with spending cuts.
"He [President Obama] will not sign a bill that extends Bush era tax cuts for wealthiest Americans because it is not good policy," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney vowed Tuesday.
Lawmakers also haggle over what to cut, how to change the tax code, and where to find savings in entitlement programs.
Congress created this fiscal cliff last year, assuming it would force them to reach a compromise on an alternative deficit reduction plan.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta admits he's worried what will happen if they don't reach a deal.
"If they just kick the can down the road, its just going to continue to represent a cloud over the Defense Department, and that's the last damn thing I need right now," Panetta said.
It's a real possibility that has the White House begging congress to find the middle ground.