House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today ripped House Republicans for scheduling a five-day break amid the " fiscal cliff" debate, asking why the chamber is not in session "trying to build confidence" and "find common ground" with only 26 days left until a mix of steep tax hikes and spending cuts take effect.
"Here we are, Thursday in December. The talk around here is what's going on at the negotiating table. Is anything going on at the negotiating table?" Pelosi, D-Calif., wondered at her weekly news conference. "I can't even explain to my constituents why Congress isn't in session now trying to at least build bridges of understanding and representing."
The GOP-controlled House concluded legislative business Wednesday afternoon after a light floor schedule this week. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor cancelled one day of legislative business previously scheduled for today, and also cut next Friday from the calendar. Cantor, however, announced Wednesday that he has added an unspecified number of days to the legislative calendar the week of Dec. 17.
"I'm really surprised that the Republicans would leave," Pelosi said. "With all that needs to be done, [are House Republicans] avoiding the conversation? Sounds like people don't want to be in town for some reason."
At least one top House Republican, however, stayed at the Capitol: House Speaker John Boehner.
President Obama and Boehner spoke on the phone Wednesday afternoon, but no details were released about the conversation. An aide to the speaker said that "the lines of communication are open" today.
Pelosi, who said she remains in close contact with the president, has repeatedly described a Republican counter-proposal this week as "an assault" on the middle class, seniors and the country's future. She also criticized the proposal for failing to detail how Republicans would specifically achieve savings if they refused to raise tax rates on the wealthiest taxpayers.
"Why are we not here getting information?" Pelosi said. "What are we talking about here? What are we talking about when we say restructure entitlements? What does restructure mean? Destroy? Wither on the vine? Voucherize? Or does it mean let's work together to make these stronger and improve benefits for the beneficiaries?"
But with a stalemate on tax rates, even negotiations between White House and congressional staffs seem to have ground to a halt.
"It's hard to explain to anyone why there's even a mystery in the conversation that we shouldn't be having the upper 2 percent of our population paying its fair share," she said. "How do you start by saying we want to know what you're going to do to seniors before we will do what we know we have to do, which is make the wealthy pay their fair share?"
Pelosi also doubted whether the GOP proposal, which called for $600 billion in health-care savings through changes such as increasing the eligibility age for Medicare, would create adequate savings.
"Show me the money. I don't even know why that is something that people think is going to produce money. What are we going to do with people between 65 and 67?" she said. "It's not even the right thing to do, first and foremost, but is it a trophy that the Republicans want … to raise the rates for the wealthiest people in our country?"
Lawmakers return to the House for legislative business Tuesday, three weeks before the "fiscal cliff" kicks in.
The Senate is in session today.