Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reiterated Thursday that he will not take up a House bill extending tax breaks to Americans making less than $1 million per year, assuming Republicans can corral enough votes to pass it.
“The speaker controls everything over there,” Reid said, predicting that the House would have enough votes to pass a Senate-approved bill that would raise taxes on those making more than $250,000. “We’re not taking up any of the things they are working on over there ... It’s time for Republicans to get serious.”
Speaker John A. Boehner, however, contended that it was President Barack Obama and Democrats who are not serious, telling reporters that the president is not willing to offer up spending cuts or entitlement reforms as part of a larger deal on the fiscal cliff.
“President Obama and Senate Democrats haven’t done much of anything. Their Plan B is to slow-walk us over the fiscal cliff,” the Ohio Republican said. “And for weeks, the White House said that if I moved on rates, that they would make substantial concessions on spending cuts and entitlement reforms. I did my part. They’ve done nothing.”
Obama did include more spending cuts in his latest offer, but Republicans have rejected them as not substantial enough.
The year-end fiscal cliff negotiations have devolved into a three-ring circus. Senate Democrats, House Republicans and White House officials all seemed to be operating in their own circles with no clear path forward just 11 days ahead of their deadline, when taxes rates will go up on all Americans and deep automatic spending cuts are scheduled to begin.
At a press conference, Senate Democratic leaders joked among themselves, teasing one another about personal weight gain or remarking that “plan B” — the name Boehner has given his tax plan — is also a moniker for emergency contraception.
Meanwhile, House Republicans held press availabilities to stress that they have enough votes for a plan Senate Democratic leaders vow never to take up and the White House promises to veto.
And an administration official began leaking damaging details, denied by the speaker’s office, that Boehner is moving forward with Thursday’s “plan B” vote because he didn’t have the votes within the Republican caucus to approve his own more comprehensive budget framework, which he presented to Obama earlier this week.
Shortly after a media availability at the Capitol held by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in which the Republican said his caucus has enough votes to pass the tax cut extension, a senior administration official divulged to reporters that GOP members were forcing it through the House because leaders didn’t have the votes for the plan Boehner offered last week.
“This is stupid and untrue,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, in a statement. “Once the White House leaked their latest offer, the speaker’s office immediately briefed reporters to explain how absurdly unbalanced it was. The speaker was clear that he could not support the president’s plan, let alone recommend it to members of the House.”
Of course, the House has never approved any sort of spending deal, either to avert multiple government shutdowns or to default, without Democratic votes, so any framework — whether offered by Boehner or Obama — would need bipartisan backing.
There had been some hope earlier in the week that lawmakers might strike a deal before Christmas, but as the weekend inched closer and many members planned to travel to Hawaii on Saturday for Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s funeral Sunday, those chances dimmed significantly. Reid told reporters he expected the Senate to return to session Dec. 27.
House Republicans are scheduled to vote Thursday evening on their “plan B,” which would allow taxes to rise on those making more than $1 million. GOP leaders hope passage will put the political burden of inaction on the larger fiscal cliff on Democrats.
The White House and Senate Democrats believe they can fault Republicans if lawmakers permit the government to go over the fiscal cliff, the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes slated to take effect Jan. 1.
Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.