Senate Democrats and Republicans did not appear to have a consensus way forward Friday on the looming fiscal cliff in the aftermath of the House GOP’s shocking failure to pass a “plan B” Thursday night.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., went through the motions of a floor fight Friday and, like the House, seemed stuck in long-held positions. McConnell would like Reid to take up a House-approved one-year extension of all current tax rates, while Reid would like the House to take up the Senate-approved bill to let taxes rise on those making more than $250,000 a year.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Thursday abruptly canceled a scheduled vote on his plan B bill that would allow taxes on millionaires to go up while ensuring all other taxpayers continue to pay Bush-era rates.
Aides from both parties suggested that their public disagreement was not just for show, especially given that Senate Democrats have no plans yet to offer any alternative other than Republicans accepting the already-passed Senate bill. That legislation, of course, cannot formally be approved by Congress without Senate GOP help because of a “blue slip” issue. Traditional House procedure prevents that chamber from taking up the bill because it contains revenue provisions and was not generated in the House.
Many in the House have been hoping that Senate leaders would take up the mantle of averting the cliff. But most in the Senate doubted history would repeat itself and were resigned to Congress failing to avert scheduled tax increases and automatic spending cuts at the start of the new year.
Members are even divided on whether it’s even possible for the Senate to take the lead on the talks, which to date have centered largely around the speaker and the president — a pairing that has failed on multiple occasions over the past two years to strike any sort of budget deal.
“It does appear that the Senate may be a place where something now needs to take place, and I think that’s maybe a given, so we’ll see what happens,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who had no further suggestion on what his party might do.
Corker added that members were surprised by the House GOP’s failure Thursday to approve its backup tax bill, which would have raised tax rates on incomes above $1 million a year. He said the failure was a setback.
“The ball is now not moving along as it was,” Corker said.
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.