After a tense game of chicken earlier this week, Congressional leaders appeared to step back from the brink today, with Speaker John Boehner telling reporters he’s confident that Congress can finish its year-end work.
Though the Ohio Republican said he has “no indications” that Senate Democrats are ready to move forward on a package of spending bills, Boehner said there has been “some movement” between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to come to “common ground.”
“Look I’ve been here for a while. This is not the first time I’ve seen year-end work get knotted up,” the Speaker said. “But I think everyone just needs to step back and take a deep breath. I think there’s an easy way to untangle all of this. We just need to let the Members do their jobs and we need to let the two institutions do their work.”
Sources said staffers for Reid and McConnell are actively exploring today whether they can find a compromise on the payroll tax cut extension and other issues, such as unemployment insurance and the Medicare physicians’ reimbursement rate, known as the doc fix.
The Senate leaders expressed renewed optimism today that they may be able to avoid both a government shutdown and an impasse on the payroll tax issue.
The change in tone is significant, particularly from the Speaker who just last night was stridently accusing Senate Democrats of brinkmanship and calling on Democratic appropriators to sign a conference report on a year-long spending agreement. He then moved to bring a standalone spending bill to the floor Friday in an attempt to undercut a Senate Democratic move to tie passage of the omnibus spending bill to an agreement on the payroll tax cut.
It is unclear whether Boehner has the votes within the GOP Conference to pass the omnibus, but Republicans introduced it Wednesday evening and Boehner maintained today that he is still willing to vote on it if the Senate does not sign off on the conference report.
“It’s my hope that the conferees will sign the conference report and we will bring it to the floor of the House,” he said. “If it does not happen, I’ve taken the essence of that bill and put it into a House bill and we’re prepared to move that if necessary.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, said Members in her caucus would not vote for the spending measure Boehner introduced Wednesday evening. Instead, the California Democrat said she hoped the chamber could move forward with the omnibus conference report that has yet to be signed.
“There are a number of objections to the bill, but the more important question is where is the White House because they have the signature,” Pelosi said of the new spending bill.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.