“The truth is, we’re coming up against a hard deadline here . . . and Republicans aren’t about to write a blank check for anything Senate Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff,” McConnell said in a speech Thursday afternoon on the Senate floor.
“We’ll see what the president has to propose,” McConnell said. “Hopefully, there is still time for an agreement of some kind that saves the taxpayers from a wholly preventable economic crisis.”
With uncertainty about a solution producing volatility in the equity markets, aides in both parties expressed hope that legislation could be enacted before the New Year’s Eve deadline. This marks just the fifth time since the 1930s that members of Congress have been dragged back from their holiday break to a post-Christmas session in Washington.
Aides cautioned, however, that quick action would require leaders in both chambers to rally firmly around a specific set of proposals.
One option that could potentially win broad support, Republican aides said, was allowing taxes to rise on household income over $400,000 a year — Obama’s latest offer in negotiations with Boehner — rather than the lower threshold of $250,000 a year, as Obama proposed during the presidential campaign.
Publicly, there was little sign of such a thaw Thursday. Instead, a sense of gloom pervaded the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) openly speculated on the Senate floor that there may no longer be time to avoid more than $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect next week.
In preparation for that possibility, each party stepped up its efforts to proactively deflect blame, insisting that the other must act first.
Reid urged the House to take up an “escape hatch” bill adopted by the Senate in July that would forestall the worst of the cliff’s economic consequences by extending tax breaks adopted under President George W. Bush for income under $250,000.
He charged that Boehner is running a “dictatorship” in the House, refusing to bring forward the legislation because it might pass with broad Democratic support and a handful of Republican votes.
“Nothing can move forward in regards to our budget crisis unless Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell are willing to participate in coming up with a bipartisan plan,” Reid said. “So far, they are radio-silent.”
McConnell retorted that Republicans have been eager to work with Obama. After one-on-one talks between Obama and Boehner failed to produce a broad deficit-reduction package last week, McConnell said it is now the president’s responsibility to put forward a new plan.