With only days to come up with a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, the White House said “congressional stupidity” was damaging the economy but that an agreement could be reached if Republican leaders don’t get in the way.
President Obama cut his Hawaiian vacation short and headed back to Washington today while the Senate is scheduled to reconvene on Thursday. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said previously that he would give House members a 48-hour notice of any upcoming vote, which means that the soonest the House could consider a bill would be Saturday — just two days before a deadline to make a deal or trigger a rise in taxes and steep budget cuts.
Boehner and other GOP leaders issued a statement today following a conference call saying: “The House has acted on two bills which collectively would avert the entire fiscal cliff if enacted. Those bills await action by the Senate. If the Senate will not approve and send them to the president to be signed into law in their current form, they must be amended and returned to the House.”
While Boehner put the onus on the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a White House official used testy language to put the responsibility back on Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“What we need is for the Senate Minority Leader not to block a vote and for Boehner to allow a vote,” a White House official told ABC News. “The hits to our economy aren’t coming from outside factors, they’re coming from congressional stupidity.”
Reid’s plan would serve as a Democratic counterpart to Boehner’s plan B, which failed to gain enough support for a vote last week. Boehner left the ball in the Senate’s court after withdrawing his plan Thursday.
Any plan from Reid is expected to include extending the Bush tax cuts for Americans making $250,000 or less.
This has been a sticking point for the left and the right throughout discussions. Democrats believe that lower- and middle-class families should keep the tax cut, while letting it expire for households making more than $250,000. Republicans counter that no Americans should be forced to pay higher taxes come Jan. 1, though Boehner’s plan would have required those making more than $1 million to lose the cut.
Reid could also propose cuts to tax deductions to generate more federal revenue.
Michael Ettlinger, vice president for economic policy at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, said that would make his plan very similar to Obama’s.
“I think this is likely to go smaller more than bigger as they try to gather votes in the Senate,” Ettlinger told ABC News Wednesday. “The Democratic vision of things is fairly clear. Where the Senate Republicans are willing to go is less so. That’s going to be the issue.”
Dan Holler of conservative policy advocacy group Heritage Action for America expects the plan to include an extension of unemployment benefits, something he says would be “extremely counterproductive for the economy.”
Democrats “see it as one of the most stimulative things you can do,” Holler told ABC News Wednesday. “Heritage has great research to go ahead and say this doesn’t really help.”
In addition to an immediate measure to stop taxes from going up, Holler suggested there would be a mechanism to compel leaders to do more further down the road, a method he said has not historically been effective at reducing the deficit.
“I think Republicans are going to look at the entire package skeptically,” Holler said of Reid’s expected plan.
Boehner press secretary Michael Steel told ABC News the speaker’s office “will take a look” at Reid’s proposal once he brings it up for a vote or shares his ideas with the House.
Garnering consensus among both parties will be difficult for any plan now. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is trying to bring D.C. politicians together with every coffee cup sold in the District.
Critics have called into question Boehner’s ability to bring his own party together.
“It seems that, in the House now, Boehner has no control over his extreme right-wing faction,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on MSNBC Wednesday. “You have, over in the House, a situation where the Republicans are saying, ‘Hey, we don’t think billionaires should pay a nickel more in taxes, but we do think there should be devastating cuts in programs that are impacting working families who are already hurting as a result of the recession.’ So that’s the problem that we have.”