The market gave up some early gains after President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, in separate public remarks, made it clear that partisan sparring would likely dominate the next several weeks. The S&P 500 finished Friday's session up 0.17 percent, but it fell 2.4 percent for the week - the worst since early June.
At this point, there's no election, and there's nothing else that can distract. The junk has filtered out and the politicians will be forced to make a decision on the fiscal cliff, said Chris Hobart, CEO and founder of the Hobart Financial Group, an investment management and financial planning firm in Charlotte, N.C.
The outlook was somewhat brightened earlier in the day when new economic data showed consumer sentiment was at its highest level in more than five years, according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan surveys, and wholesale inventories jumped in September, according to a Commerce Department report.
Shares of Walt Disney Co fell 6 percent to $47.06, dragging on the Dow industrials, after the company reported results late Thursday. The company said coming results will be under pressure due to declining home video sales and rising costs.
Groupon Inc's shares sank 29.6 percent to $2.76 a day after the daily deal company's results fell short of Wall Street's expectations.
The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 4.07 points, or 0.03 percent, to 12,815.39 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 2.34 points, or 0.17 percent, to 1,379.85. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 9.29 points, or 0.32 percent, to close at 2,904.87.
For the week, the Dow fell 2.1 percent and the Nasdaq lost 2.6 percent.
Tech stocks managed solid gains in Friday's session. An S&P information technology sector index rose 0.6 percent.
Shares of Apple Inc rebounded from their slide into bear market territory earlier this week with a 1.7 percent gain on Friday to close at $547.06.
But the stock of J.C. Penney slid 4.8 percent to $20.64 and ranked as the S&P 500's biggest decliner after the retailer reported a sharper-than-expected decline in quarterly sales at stores open at least a year.
The market's early gains on Friday came after stronger-than-expected figures on U.S. consumer sentiment.
But investors' enthusiasm cooled after hearing from the House speaker and the president about the fiscal cliff.
Boehner, a Republican, reiterated his opposition to any tax hikes on the wealthy late this morning. Obama responded in the early afternoon by saying there was no way around tax increases, but that he would remain open to any new ideas that congressional leaders might have.
The fiscal cliff is a combination of government spending cuts and tax increases set to go into effect early next year unless Congress acts to change the law before then. It could take an estimated $600 billion out of the U.S. economy and push it into recession.
There was an anticipation that there may be more willingness to compromise, but just like Boehner did earlier in the day, both camps stuck to their lines in the sand, so to speak, said Mohannad Aama, managing director of Beam Capital Management LLC in New York.
Investors are reacting to the prospect of higher tax rates by selling both losing and winning stocks for the year to decrease the tax impact from their positions.
The euro zone is not inspiring confidence, either. Greece's finance minister said his country was running out of cash, growth in Germany is expected to weaken in the next two quarters, and France's central bank said the country's economy would slip into recession as 2012 ends.
Germany and France are the the euro zone's two largest economies, and Greece has been scraping by, thanks to a 130-billion-euro bailout.
International Game Technology gained 5.2 percent to $13.50 after the slot machine company reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings.
Lions Gate Entertainment Corp jumped 14.3 percent to $16.68 after reporting earnings of $75.5 million, an above-expectation figure that was boosted by the studio's blockbuster movie, The Hunger Games.
According to Thomson Reuters data through Friday, of the 449 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 63.3 percent have topped analysts' expectations - slightly above the 62 percent average since 1994, but below the 67 percent beat rate over the past four quarters.
But revenue results remain disappointing, with only 38.2 percent of companies topping expectations - well below the 62 percent average since 2002, and the 55 percent beat rate over the past four quarters.
Volume was roughly 6.6 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the year-to-date average daily closing volume of 6.52 billion.
Decliners outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by a ratio of about 8 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange.
On the Nasdaq, advancers had the slight edge, with 1,232 stocks gaining and 1,208 shares declining.