All eyes turned Thursday to the Senate, as leaders there gaveled the chamber back into session and House Republicans ramped up pressure for a fiscal cliff deal to emerge from the Senate after failing to move their own proposal last week.
According to a White House official, President Barack Obama spoke with top congressional leaders in separate phone calls late Wednesday before he left Hawaii to return to Washington: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. They discussed the fiscal cliff, but the official did not provide more detail than that.
Almost every major budget or tax deal this Congress has originated from Capitol Hill negotiators, whether it was to stave off government shutdowns or default or to extend the payroll tax holiday. But with only four days left before their Jan. 1 deadline — when all tax rates are set to rise and across-the-board discretionary spending cuts are set to kick in — leaders have very little time to haggle out an agreement.
Moreover, it appears House GOP leaders either don’t want to be at the table or perceive that they can’t be. The chamber is only in pro forma session, and Senate Democrats haven’t displayed much interest in moving from their current position, which is that the House should pass a Senate-approved extension of tax breaks for income under $250,000.
As the Senate reconvened Thursday morning, Reid came out swinging. He needled Boehner for failing to secure the votes for a backup tax cut plan last week and doubled down on his position that the House pass the Senate’s bill.
“I don’t know, time-wise, how [a deal] can happen now. Everyone knows we can’t bring up anything here unless we do it by unanimous consent,” Reid said, after attacking House Republicans for not reconvening in Washington. “I can’t imagine their consciences. They’re out wherever they are around the country, and we’re here ... they couldn’t even get the leadership together yesterday. They had to do it with a teleconference.
“If we go over the cliff, we’ll be left with the knowledge that it could have been prevented with a single vote in the Republican-controlled House,” Reid continued, referring to the tax bill approved by the Senate. That bill, however, would need help via consent from Senate Republicans, as well, given that it cannot become law as a result of a blue-slip issue, meaning that because the legislation generates revenue it must originate in the House.
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.