Instead, a sense of gloom pervaded the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Harry 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.
“Republicans bent over backwards,” he said. “We wanted an agreement. But we had no takers. The phone never rang.”
McConnell said the Senate’s bill was not a viable option because it was approved with only Democratic votes and because measures dealing with revenue are required by the Constitution to originate in the House.
Boehner also told Republican lawmakers in a conference call that the Senate must act first. He said the Senate should take up and amend a bill passed by House Republicans in August to extend tax breaks for Americans at all income levels and another approved in May that would shift military spending cuts set for next month to domestic programs.