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Roll Call

New Year's Eve in D.C. Becomes More Likely for Congress

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
On the Sunday talk shows, Lieberman struck a pessimistic note, saying he expects Congress to spend New Year’s Eve working on a deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

With the continued impasse on forging a year-end budget deal, C-SPAN might want to look into acquiring the rights to “Auld Lang Syne” for coverage of a New Year’s Eve congressional session.

The House and Senate are already scheduled to return to Washington on Dec. 27, but lawmakers on Sunday expressed a wide-range of opinions on what their leaders should do next and resignation that their holiday will likely be truncated, if practically non-existent.

“We’re going to spend New Year’s Eve here, I believe,” retiring Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Cue metaphors about the Beltway ball drop.

“It’s more likely that we go over the cliff than not and if we allow that to happen it will be the most colossal, consequential act of congressional irresponsibility,” Lieberman said. “The ball now is clearly in the Senate’s court. [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid and [Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell certainly have the ability to put this back together again.”

The final week of congressional work before Christmas was punctuated by political miscalculations from House Republicans, intransigence from both sides and a last-minute offer from President Barack Obama before he left town for Hawaii.

Republicans can accept a package that extends current tax rates for income under $250,000, renews unemployment benefits and delays the across-the-board discretionary spending cuts scheduled to begin Jan. 1 and Obama will sign it into law, he said Friday.

Of course, House Republicans have refused to move on a tax bill that would let rates expire for income above $250,000 and McConnell has said he believes Democrats should extend all of the current tax rates for a year while instructing committees to work on tax reform in 2013. The House GOP failed to move its own bill from Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Thursday evening that would have let rates increase for income more than $1 million.

Obama, Reid and other top lawmakers were in Hawaii Sunday — the president for his annual Christmas vacation — to attend the Honolulu funeral for Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, who died Monday.

There were some signs Senate Republicans, at least, could support the Democrats’ $250,000 income tax rate levels, albeit reluctantly.

“If we get down to the end of the year and the only choice we have is to save taxes going up on the middle class, then I would support that, but I wish we would have a comprehensive bill that dealt with spending, dealt with entitlements and dealt with spending altogether,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., told ABC News. “I felt like the House should have passed Speaker Boehner’s bill.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he could not support the president’s latest proposal, but said the GOP needed to accept that tax rates are going to go up whether Congress acts or not, so Republicans should accept some sort of compromise.

“He’s going to get tax rate hikes,” Graham said of Obama, while endorsing tax code reform and reforming deductions and loopholes. “To my Republican colleagues, if we can protect 99 percent of the American public from a tax hike, that’s not a tax increase in my book.”

Senate Democratic aides have insisted that at this juncture of negotiations, it’s the $250,000 tax rate level or bust, but other sources speculated late last week, as Isakson did Sunday, that Reid and McConnell could come to the table to try to wrangle some sort of deal to avert the cliff before the new year.

But all, regardless of chamber or party, acknowledged time is running short and seemed to believe no deal was more likely than a small deal.

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