Returning to Washington just two days after Christmas, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid placed the blame for inaction on the so-called "fiscal cliff" squarely on the shoulders of his counterpart in the House, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who remains in Ohio this morning.
"I can't imagine their consciousness," Reid said this morning on the Senate floor of House Republican leadership who has no plans to return to Washington before the New Year unless the Senate and President Obama come up with a plan to avoid tax hikes. Republican leaders have told their members they'd receive 48 hours notice if they need to return.
But Reid said the Senate acted weeks ago. "The way to avoid the 'fiscal cliff' has been right in the face of Republican leaders for days and days and days...," Reid said, referring to a bill the Senate previously passed that would extend current tax rates into next year for all wage earners making less than $250,000.
"I say to the speaker: 'Take the escape hatch we left you," Reid said. "It's not too late," he added.
Reid said Boehner "seems to care more about keeping his speakership" than avoiding the tax hikes and federal spending cuts set to go into place in just five days.
Reid lectured that Boehner has "just a few days left to change his mind," and he emphasized that he is not sure "time wise how" the Senate can pass a new, more comprehensive package, that addresses both the spending cuts and the tax hikes.
People are "waiting for the [New Year's] ball to drop, but its not going to be a good drop," Reid said.
But while Reid blamed Boehner for the stalemate, Boehner said it is up to Democrats, who control the Senate and the White House, to avert the "cliff."
"[T]he Senate must now act," an aide to Boehner told CBS News. "The House has already done so to avert the entire fiscal cliff," the aide said, referring to a bill the House passed months ago that would replace the automatic across-the-board spending cuts to defense and social programs with targeted cuts.
But Boehner failed to pass a measure last week that would extend current tax rates on all incomes except on households making more than a million dollars per year. With Democrats refusing to back the measure because it doesn't raise enough revenue and too many Republicans revolting, refusing to raise taxes on anyone, Boehner was forced to pull the bill and the vote did not happen. That 11th hour move led to additional gridlock around the "fiscal cliff."
President Obama, meanwhile, has cut his traditional Hawaiian Christmas vacation short and is returning to Washington today. Before he left, he spoke on the phone with Reid and Boehner, as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
While the phone call was about the "fiscal cliff," there was unlikely any significant update as Republican and Democratic leaders have not talked in recent days.
Adding to the urgency, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the debt limit will be reached earlier than expected. In a letter to Congressional leadership, Geithner said that as of December 31, the U.S. will reach its debt limit and that the Treasury will have to take "extraordinary measures" to avoid defaulting on its borrowed obligations.
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