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 ó when all tax rates are set to rise and across-the-board discretionary spending cuts are set to kick in ó leaders have very little time to haggle out an agreement.
Moreover, it appears House GOP leaders either donít want to be at the table or perceive that they canít be. The chamber is only in pro forma session, and Senate Democrats havenít 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 Senateís bill.
ďI donít know, time-wise, how [a deal] can happen now. Everyone knows we canít bring up anything here unless we do it by unanimous consent,Ē Reid said, after attacking House Republicans for not reconvening in Washington. ďI canít imagine their consciences. Theyíre out wherever they are around the country, and weíre here ... they couldnít even get the leadership together yesterday. They had to do it with a teleconference.
ďIf we go over the cliff, weíll be left with the knowledge that it could have been prevented with a single vote in the Republican-controlled House,Ē 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.
Following the speeches from elected officials, the crowd stands at long tables as they dig into BBQ, brunswick stew, cadillac rice at the Law Enforcement Cookout at Wayne Dasher's pond house in Glennville, Ga., on Thursday, April 17, 2014.