POLITICIANS in the US are playing a waiting game with a week left before a deadline for the country to go over the so-called fiscal cliff that would result in budget cuts and higher taxes from New Year's Day.

Though Republicans and Democrats have spent the better part of a year describing a plunge off the cliff as a looming catastrophe, the nation's capital showed no outward signs of worry, let alone impending calamity.

The White House has set up shop in Hawaii, where President Barack Obama is on holiday.

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The capital was deserted and the Treasury Department – which would have to do a lot of last-minute number-crunching with or without a deal – was closed.

So were all other federal government offices, with Obama having followed a tradition of declaring the Monday before a Tuesday Christmas a holiday. Expectations for some 11th-hour rescue focused largely on Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, as he has performed the role of legislative wizard in previous stalemates.

But Mr McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2014, was shunning the role this year, his spokesman saying it was now up to Democrats to make the next move.

The next session of the Senate is set for tomorrow, but the issues presented by across-the-board tax hikes and indiscriminate reductions in spending were not on the calendar.