House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, today sought to push the onus of dealing with the impending "fiscal cliff" back onto Democrats, referring to the series of bills passed by House Republicans in the last year that would have eliminated significant chunks of the "cliff," including an extension of all Bush-era tax cuts passed by the GOP-led House in August.
"We have been waiting since August 1st for the Senate to act," said Boehner.
Boehner also indicted the White House's role in eschewing compromise, saying President Obama "simply won't deal honestly with entitlement reform and the big issues that are facing our country."
Boehner further brushed aside suggestions that yesterday's aborted vote on his "Plan B" proposal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" represented a rebuke of his speakership, arguing, "We may not have been able to get the votes last night," but that House Republicans weren't "taking that out on me."
"There was a perception created that that vote last night was going to increase taxes," said Boehner. "I disagree with that characterization of the bill, but that impression was out there."
Boehner's "Plan B" would have retained current tax rates on household income up to $1 million while allowing rates to rise on income in excess of that threshold.
Despite the self-inflicted political black eye dealt by GOP leaders' decision to pull the bill from the floor, Boehner argued, "Nobody ought to read anything into this. We've got differences," citing "A number of our members who just didn't want to be perceived as having raised taxes."
He continued to defend the compromise represented in his "Plan B" proposal, arguing that if 100 people are drowning in a pool, you don't refuse to save any of them because you can't save all of them - instead, save as many as you can. The lesson of the metaphor - that politicians should pass what they agree upon and leave disputed areas for later - has been voiced in various forms by President Obama and congressional Democrats in the past, who have argued that we should extend middle class tax cuts now - a position shared by both parties - and hash out the fate of high-end tax cuts later.
When asked whether last night's cancelled vote signals that he is walking away from the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, Boehner said, "Absolutely not. Listen, I'm proud of our members. They do a great job on behalf of their constituents, and frankly a great job on behalf of our country. But what Mr. Cantor outlined last night is that the House would come back as needed, and we're prepared to come back if needed."
"We stand ready to continue in dialogue with this president to actually fix the problem," said Boehner.
But with only 11 days to go before the "fiscal cliff" lands on January 1st, when the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes are set to kick in, the path forward is as enduringly opaque as ever, a fact alluded to by Boehner's fatalistic remark that "God only knows" how the two parties will be able to reach an accord on tax reform.
"Because of the political divide in the country, because of the divide here in Washington, trying to bridge these differences has been difficult," said Boehner. "If it were easy," the speaker argued, it would have been done "decades before."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for her part, said that Republicans' ill-fated push to enact "Plan B" was "a path that led them over the cliff."
Pelosi called on Republicans in the House to "go back to the negotiation table," saying they had "no right" to leave for the Holidays without resolving the "fiscal cliff."
Meanwhile, in a floor speech in the upper chamber, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called on the House to vote on a bill, already passed by the Senate five months ago, that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for household income under $250,000, saying, "We know it would pass," and adding that the only reason Boehner won't bring it up is that he too knows it will pass.
President Obama held a public event today to announce the selection of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as his choice to be his next Secretary of State, but the president did not address the ongoing negotiations over the impending "fiscal cliff."