The House's inability to act on a plan to extend the Bush tax cuts for income over a million a year has left efforts to avoid the "fiscal cliff" in shambles, just as senior lawmakers were either heading home for the holidays or getting on planes to Hawaii for the Sunday burial of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), who died Monday.
Democratic aides said the only path forward was for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to call Obama and resume negotiations. But senior Republican aides said time had run out on efforts to replace the cliff with a grand bargain that raises taxes and cut spending.
Aides said Boehner was planning to stay in Washington at least until the end of the day. But it's up to Obama to call him, said one senior aide, adding that Obama knows the speaker's number. "He's got an iPhone," the aide said. "It quacks like a duck."
The Senate was due back for a series of votes Friday afternoon, when aides said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would suggest a way forward. But that path has been hugely complicated by the failure of Boehner's "Plan B," which was explicitly structured for relatively easy Senate passage. Now, absent a bipartisan agreement to tame the debt, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has few procedural options.
Because the Senate cannot constitutionally initiate legislation that affects taxes, Boehner urged Reid to take up a measure that passed the House in August to extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for all taxpayers. But because of that measure's structure, conservatives and liberals opposed to the bill -- or any proposals to amend it -- would have numerous opportunities to mount a filibuster, forcing Reid to muster 60 votes to proceed, an enormous political hurdle.
On Friday morning, with Inouye's memorial service underway at the National Cathedral, the halls of the Capitol were largely deserted.