With just five days left before the year-end "fiscal cliff," the Senate returned to business Thursday morning on a deeply pessimistic note about any kind of deal to avert the crisis.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) opened the day with a scathing speech on the Senate floor castigating Republican leaders in the House for not calling their members back to Washington restart negotiations and called the chances of going over the cliff increasingly likely.
He accused House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) of putting a higher priority on keeping his job as leader of the House over the well-being of the nation's economy. Reid said increasingly the only "escape hatch" out of the stalemate would be for Boehner to allow the House the vote on a measure adopted by the Senate over the summer to extend tax breaks for those making less than $250,000 a year.
Boehner has said the Senate must move first, asking Democrats to take up a bill passed by the House in August to extend tax breaks for Americans at all income levels. He has put the House on 48 hours notice to return to Washington but has indicated he has no plans to ask members to come back without Senate action.
"Nothing can move forward in regards to our budget crisis unless Speaker Boehner and [Minority] Leader [Mitch] McConnell are willing to participate in coming up with a bipartisan plan," Reid said.
"So far, they are radio silent," he said.
As a result, Reid said the nation is increasingly unlikely to forestall tax hikes on nearly every American and deep automatic spending cuts on Jan. 1.
Reid said Boehner will not bring up the Senate's bill because he knows it would pass on the votes of Democrats and a handful of Republicans. He charged that the House is now run as Boehner's own "dictatorship."