WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner abruptly abandoned a plan to avert the year-end "fiscal cliff" late Thursday after failing to persuade conservative Republicans to extend tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans and let tax rates rise for millionaires.

With more than four dozen House Republicans either on the fence or signaling their opposition, Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders shuttered the House floor moments before the vote was scheduled to begin. They disappeared into Boehner's office and then summoned rank-and-file lawmakers to an emergency meeting that ended with a terse statement calling off the vote.

Boehner's sudden move throws into chaos efforts to avoid the fiscal cliff, just 11 days before more than $500 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts are to take effect. Unless Congress acts, many economists predict the nation will again descend into a recession.

The House is now recessed until after Christmas, and the Senate is scheduled to meet for only a few hours Friday afternoon before members leave town until Dec. 27.

Boehner's inability to rally the House behind a proposal that would have preserved tax cuts for more than 99 percent of Americans -- while raising rates for about 400,000 wealthy families -- casts doubt on his ability to pass any alternative to the fiscal cliff. It also underscores the limited clout that he and his leadership team wield within the Republican caucus.

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Boehner opened the emergency meeting with his lawmakers by announcing that he would deliver the prayer, an unusual move. He then launched into the familiar lines: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Moments later, Boehner's office issued a written statement.

"The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass. Now it is up to the president to work with Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff," the statement said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "The Senate must now act," he said.

After the meeting, Boehner and other Republican leaders left the Capitol without answering reporters' questions. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, (R-Va.), announced that his chamber was leaving town until "after the Christmas holiday, when needed."